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Meth component ordinance is about protecting our kids

Posted on Monday, August 26, 2013 at 4:26 pm

Meth is a growing problem for the United States but especially for Tennessee. As of February 2013, Tennessee was the second hardest hit state, only behind Missouri, with the number of meth lab incidents from 2002-2011 being 14,836.

Why has such a dangerous activity as making meth become so widespread? One reason is that meth is highly addictive, even after only one use, and it is easy to make with pseudoephedrine and various, common household chemicals. Meth is the only drug that can be made by the abuser within a few hours, and any extra can be sold to other abusers or traded to “smurfers” in exchange for pseudoephedrine to make the next batch. It is a never-ending, self-perpetuating problem. The “labs” used to make meth have been found in cars, children’s toy boxes or under their beds, bathrooms, kitchens, garages, along the side of the roads, in wooded areas, or anywhere a plastic bottle would not be out of place.

Any of us at any time could be exposed to one of these labs and the toxic, volatile chemicals used to manufacture meth if one of these “labs” or “bombs in a bottle” explodes or catches fire. This means that any of us could be at risk for chemical burns, explosions, or simply exposure to chemicals that are known to cause cancer and other life-threatening conditions!

So why does law enforcement not step up and protect the innocent people from these dangerous labs? Our local law enforcement in Fayetteville and Lincoln County, in conjunction with the TN Bureau of Investigation and law enforcement from surrounding counties and states, has done just that by asking the Fayetteville City Council to adopt an ordinance that would make pseudoephedrine products available by prescription only. Because pseudoephedrine is the key ingredient in meth, stopping it from getting into the hands of meth addicts and manufacturers or “cooks” is the only way to reduce the number of meth labs and to protect law-abiding citizens and innocent children from exposure to the deadly process.

I have heard the question, “Why should law abiding citizens have to be inconvenienced to buy medicine?” My question is, “Why should children be ‘inconvenienced’ by being taken out of their home and placed in foster care because someone in their home or one of their neighbors chose to make meth in their house and risk their lives?”

I pose some additional questions, “Why should property owners be faced with exorbitant cost to clean up their property or have to move out of their home because a meth addict decided he/she needed to make this terrible drug?” “Why should we stand idly by while meth addicts risk their children’s lives, the lives of their neighbors, and the lives of first responders who are called in to deal with the aftermath of these labs?” To clean up a property where a meth lab has been discovered, a certified clean-up team will charge anywhere between $5,000-$25,000. Until the property can be declared safe, it is quarantined. There are currently 11 properties in Lincoln County under quarantine.

Another question, “Why should we as a state cover the cost of trauma care for meth addicts who blow themselves up in meth labs?” One “cook” who was burned when his meth lab exploded was in Vanderbilt for four months at a cost to taxpayers of over $1 million. In 2010 Vanderbilt reported that 1/3 of their burn patients were meth-related. Average cost per day of a stay in the burn unit is $5,000 to $10,000. I would hazard to guess that most of these costly medical bills will have to be written off by the hospital or covered by TennCare.

We as a community, state and nation are already burdened financially by taking care of those who make bad choices. Why should we also have to stand by while the key ingredient used to manufacture the most devastating drug known is easily available to criminals and meth addicts? When we discovered that anhydrous ammonia was being used to make bombs, regulations were placed on who could buy it, how much they could buy, and where/how it could be sold. Pseudoephedrine is more readily available than anhydrous ammonia and has much more devastating effects in much smaller quantities when used incorrectly.

If the Fayetteville City Council passes the ordinance to make pseudoephedrine available by prescription only, they will single-handedly be responsible for reducing the cost these dangerous “bombs in a bottle” have on our community and will save local taxpayers millions in social services, clean-up, devalued property, loss of property and law enforcement time.

Why would there be any negative reaction to this effort? Negative reaction comes because there is misinformation about how this ordinance will affect law-abiding citizens. Actually, this ordinance will only impact a small number of citizens. The Government Accountability Office and the Tennessee Comptroller report that less than 5-10% of Tennesseans use products containing pseudoephedrine. For that small percentage, this ordinance will not require a doctor’s visit for each prescription. Any person who has a relationship with a primary care physician can call their doctor and ask for the prescription to be called in to their pharmacy. In many cases, this prescription can be refilled for up to one year. In addition, this ordinance only impacts about 13 medications, while leaving over 130 medications readily available. Is one phone call actually that inconvenient?

In closing, let me paint a picture of why this issue is so close to my heart. It is all about the kids who are impacted when a meth lab is discovered in their home, car, etc. Being removed from a home with an active meth lab leaves children without their parents, often without their siblings, and with none of their familiar toys or clothes that could potentially provide comfort in such a terrible time. Just last month in Martin, a man was forced to leave his home for more than two weeks after a “shake and bake” meth lab caused a fire in the bathroom of the apartment next door. Both sides of the duplex had to be quarantined. The man was allowed to take only his medicine and his cat. Can you imagine if there had been children in the home where the lab caught fire or if this man had had children living in his home? They would be displaced from their home through absolutely no fault of their own. Also, they would be facing the possibility of many health-related issues throughout their lives.

As of Aug. 19, 2013, approximately 30 children have been removed from homes in Fayetteville and Lincoln County because of meth labs. But this terrible trend does not have to continue. Since enacting this ordinance in 2007, the state of Oregon has not removed one child from a home with an active meth lab. In Mississippi, since the implementation of a similar law, the number of drug-endangered children removed from meth labs decreased approximately 80%.

Because the vision statement of HELP (Helping Everyone Learn Prevention) Anti-Drug Coalition is for “A Safe and Drug-Free Lincoln County,” we ask that the citizens of Fayetteville and Lincoln County join us as we stand with our state and local law enforcement officers and support the ordinance to make pseudoephedrine available by prescription only. It is not about “inconveniencing” us as adults…it is about protecting our children!

Kaye Cowley,

Lincoln County HELP Anti-Drug Coalition