Methamphetamine production continues in small laboratories in Tennessee and elsewhere around the country in spite of new laws regulating and tracking the sale of pharmacy products used to manufacture the illegal drug, according to a report released this week by state Comptroller Justin P. Wilson.
The report, released by the Comptroller's Office of Research and Education Accountability (OREA), focuses on attempts to control access to legal products sold at pharmacies which are later used to create methamphetamine.
Pseudoephedrine, the most common of the so-called "precursor" products used in manufacturing the drug, is an ingredient in many over-the-counter cold and allergy remedies.
The report cautions that the relatively short history of precursor-control policies and the limitations of available crime and drug use data make it difficult to draw conclusions about the effectiveness of particular precursor-control laws on the production of methamphetamine in small labs.
NPLEX APPROVED IN 2011
In 2011, the Tennessee General Assembly passed legislation to implement a real-time electronic tracking system -- the National Precursor Log Exchange (NPLEx) -- to limit the quantities of precursor products that can be purchased by individuals.
After much debate, NPLEx was chosen over a more restrictive requirement that would have required that the public obtain prescriptions from physicians for the pharmacy precursors.
The 2011 legislation included a directive for the comptroller's office to conduct a study and issue a report.
According to the report, called "Methamphetamine Production in Tennessee," activity in small labs is prevalent in Tennessee and some other Southern and Midwestern states despite the implementation of pharmacy precursor sales limitations and enhanced electronic tracking systems.
Law enforcement officials in Tennessee and nationally attribute the increase in methamphetamine lab incidents to the ability of producers to work around precursor-control policies.
The report said three areas that have implemented prescription-only policies for methamphetamine precursors -- Oregon, Mississippi and some parts of Missouri -- have seen decreases in methamphetamine lab incidents.
But two studies of the 2006 Oregon policy question the extent to which other factors may have contributed to the decline, since other Western states also had similar declines.
Mississippi and parts of Missouri, which like Tennessee were both high methamphetamine production areas in 2009, saw a reduction in methamphetamine lab incidents in 2010.
Law enforcement officials attribute the decline to the change to a prescription-only policy. Other nearby states without prescription-only policies did not see declines in 2010.
OPTIONS TO CONSIDER
The report outlines several factors and options for policymakers to consider in evaluating whether to make a precursor control policy change. Issues include:
* The extent to which pharmacy precursors are used for methamphetamine production.
Estimates vary from 3 to 5 percent by the Consumer Healthcare Products Association, which represents pharmaceutical companies, to somewhere between 30 percent and 70 percent by the Tennessee Methamphetamine and Pharmaceutical Task Force, which works with law enforcement.
* The number of legitimate users of pharmacy precursors and the availability of non-precursor alternatives.
Approximately 10 percent of adult Tennesseans purchased pharmacy precursors to methamphetamine from January through June 2012, according to the report.
* The potential cost and access concerns to consumers of a prescription requirement.
Assumptions that drive cost and access estimates of a prescription-only policy include whether consumers will switch to other over-the-counter medicines, whether additional doctor visits will be needed to obtain prescriptions for pseudoephedrine, and the need for medical oversight for long-term use of pseudoephedrine, the report states.
* The adequacy of Tennessee's Controlled Substance Monitoring Database to track and control prescription-only methamphetamine precursor sales.
* Funding alternatives for methamphetamine enforcement when current federal funding is depleted in 2013.
FOCUS ON PRODUCTION
The report emphasizes that precursor-control policies focus on preventing or reducing local methamphetamine production, not methamphetamine use.
A decrease in the supply of locally-produced methamphetamine may not necessarily result in a reduction in methamphetamine use, the report states.
Most of the methamphetamine available in many parts of the United States is supplied by Mexican criminal organizations and is produced in foreign and domestic super labs, according to the report.
OREA is an agency within the Comptroller's Office that is charged with providing accurate and objective policy research and analysis for the Tennessee General Assembly and the public.
To view the report online, go to: http://www.comptroller.tn.gov/OREA/