LOCAL STORES SCRAMBLE TO PULL METH-MAKING COLD MEDS
Tennessee retailers rushing to beat a 24-hour deadline and avoid possible $2,500 fines cleared store shelves Thursday of cold and allergy products used to make methamphetamine.
A new state law aimed at drug abusers who cook the addictive stimulant put all tablets containing pseudoephedrine behind pharmacy counters, where quantities are limited and purchases require a signature and ID.
" ... We took all of the cold medicines that contained ephedrine or pseudoepehedrine off of the shelves as required by law," said Jeff Benedict, president of Appalachian Oil, the company that runs Appco convenience stores in the Tri-Cities region. "Medicines containing those substances in a gelcap or a liquid form will remain, because apparently you can't make meth out of those."
Gov. Phil Bredesen signed the measure, including the 24-hour deadline for retailers, Wednesday after it made a quick run through the General Assembly. Retailers had until noon EST Thursday to rid their shelves of the cold tablets.
The law puts Tennessee among a handful of states with such restrictive laws on pseudoephedrine, a decongestant.
In 2003, Tennessee led the nation in government spending to clean up the clandestine labs where meth is typically made by cooking common chemicals, matchbook striker plates and pseudoephedrine tablets.
Cooking the drug creates toxic, sickening vapors. The state has taken hundreds of children from parents who exposed them to so-called labs, which also have caused burn injuries and deaths.
Will Pinkston, a Bredesen aide who worked as liaison to the governor's meth task force that developed the law, said reports Thursday showed retailers were complying with the deadline. He said law enforcement officials were not planning any immediate crackdown.
Benedict said the medicines that were removed from his shelves will be reclaimed by the distributors when they come to restock the shelves with gelcap and liquid alternatives.
Ben Scharfstein, owner of One Stop Convenience Store, 1912 S. Roan St., said very few items had to be pulled from shelves and placed behind the counter.
While it wasn't much hassle, Scharfstein said he was extremely disappointed in the state's lack of notification to retailers.
"I just read about it in the paper this morning," he said, noting that his supplier called soon after to tell them to take the applicable products off the shelves. "That is not a professional way of doing this. This is the first time in 25 years I've seen anything like it."
Benedict's experience was similar.
"I had known for a week that it was working its way through the Legislature, but it was only (Wednesday) that I found out that it had actually been signed by the governor and that the deadline would be this morning," he said. "There has been no government communication to us of any kind. We just had to pick it up through the media and through people who are watching legislation for us in Nashville."
Still, Benedict believes the legislation was a good idea.
"We fully support Governor Bredesen's efforts to reduce the number of meth labs in Tennessee, even though it means that, at least for some period of time, we'll be doing less business," he said.
Unlike the 24-hour deadline for retailers, pharmacies have 30 days to move the restricted cold medicines behind the counter.
Violations of the deadlines are punishable as Class A misdemeanors, which carry a maximum possible $2,500 fine.
A legislative sponsor of the meth law, Rep. Charles Curtiss, D-Sparta, said the deadline for retailers was "tight" for a reason.
"There are some retailers here supplying these drug-makers with the products," Curtiss said. "We've got some people, that was their last chance to make a big deal."