Meth busts down since limits on cold pills
Number of labs seized tumbles 49% in May, June since law enacted.
By LEON ALLIGOODStaff Writer
The number of methamphetamine labs seized by authorities in Tennessee during May and June decreased significantly — 49% statewide — compared with the number of busts from the same months in 2004.
The decline is attributed to Tennessee's stringent anti-meth legislation, which became effective May 1, according to the Governor's Task Force on Methamphetamine Abuse.
"I think the thing that is responsible is the lack of being able to buy pseudoephedrine products by the pickup truck load. We just hope that the number stays going in the right direction. We think that it will,'' said Commissioner of Agriculture Ken Givens, who also is chairman of the task force.
Tennessee's Meth-Free Tennessee Act of 2005 was signed into law earlier this year by Gov. Phil Bredesen. A major component of the law required pharmacies to move products containing pseudoephedrine behind the counter. In addition, stores that do not have a pharmacy are prohibited from selling products containing the chemical.
Pseudoephedrine is a necessary raw ingredient in the manufacturing of methamphetamine, a highly addictive stimulant that has become the drug of choice in many rural communities across the state. Pseudoephedrine is an ingredient in many cold remedies.
Joey Mundy of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's Nashville office reported the decrease to the task force.
"This is a significant decrease. We've had pocket decreases in certain areas, but there's been nothing of this magnitude. It's half of what it was a year ago,'' Mundy said.
July appears to be on the decrease, too.
"We haven't had a lab reported since the 19th of July. At times we have had three or four a night. It's good news,'' Mundy said.
Tennessee's results are similar to decreases that Oklahoma saw when it enacted its anti-meth legislation in 2004. Oklahoma's law, considered to be the most stringent in the nation, was used as a model for the Tennessee law. Since then, Oklahoma has been able to maintain a decrease in the number of labs seized compared with before the law's passage.
TBI Director Mark Gwyn is hopeful that Tennessee's experience will be the same, but he said the state's meth problem is far from over. There is evidence, he said, that some meth cooks in East Tennessee are "slipping over the border" into North Carolina to purchase pseudoephedrine and returning to Tennessee to "cook" the dope.
Gwyn also expects imported meth, primarily from Mexican cartels, to filter into the state at some point.
"We're preparing for that, but from a law enforcement perspective we can deal with that through conventional law enforcement methods like we deal with large quantities of cocaine. It's a lot easier to deal with that than the many clandestine labs that are spread throughout the state,'' the TBI chief said.
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