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VOL. 38 | NO. 14 | Friday, April 4, 2014

Tennessee House OKs watered-down anti-meth bill

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NASHVILLE (AP) - Supporters of a watered-down version of Gov. Bill Haslam's anti-methamphetamine legislation approved by the House on Wednesday believe it will help in the fight against the drug's production across the state, even though it's not as tough as they would like.

The House overwhelmingly voted 80-17 in favor of the proposal that would set an annual cap of 150 days' worth of allergy and cold medicines like Sudafed that could be bought without a prescription. Over-the-counter remedies that include pseudoephedrine are abused by people who make methamphetamine with the ingredient.

The House version is double the amount envisioned under Haslam's previous proposal that has been adopted in the Senate.

The Republican governor's original proposal would have established a monthly limit of 2.4 grams of pseudoephedrine, or a 10-day maximum dose, before requiring a pharmacist to authorize another 10 days' worth before getting a doctor' s prescription.

Facing resistance over that measure, the governor later removed the pharmacist element, and instead proposed a 4.8-gram month maximum and an annual cap of 14.4 grams. That proposal was adopted in the Senate. The House version sets a 5.8-gram monthly cap and annual limit of 28.8 grams.

House lawmakers on Wednesday voted against an amendment to return the legislation to the governor's proposal.

"We've come to a conclusion as a body that this is a fair and meager approach," said Republican Rep. Tony Shipley of Kingsport, who helped craft the compromise legislation that carries lesser restrictions on the amount of medicines that could be bought without a prescription.

"This is not going to solve the problem by itself, it is a piece," he said.

Rep. G.A. Hardaway said he opposed the governor's version because of the hardships it would place on people who want to purchase the medicines legally, like some seniors who would be forced to get transportation to try to see a doctor.

"It's not a perfect bill, it's a compromise," said the Memphis Democrat. "Nobody got everything they wanted, but it's a beginning."

Mark Gwyn, the director of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, told reporters after the vote that 1,685 meth labs were seized in Tennessee last year. He said neighboring Kentucky, which has a 24.4-gram limit on pseudoephedrine, has seen a 40 percent reduction in meth labs and he believes Tennessee will also see some degree of reduction.

"I'm for legislation that will reduce the production of meth labs in this state, and we feel that this legislation will," he said. "How much it will reduce, we don't know."

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