A new allergy drug might be the key to curbing meth abuse in Campbell County.
Monday night, District Attorney General Lori Phillips-Jones spoke to the Campbell County Anti-Drug Coalition about Nexafed—a decongestant that has been on the market since the end of last year.
Nexafed is an alternative to Sudafed, but is produced in a way that makes it harder to be used in the manufacture of methamphetamine.
“Nexafed is exactly like Sudafed,” Philips-Jones said. “It has the same decongestive capabilities, except it has a different chemical makeup.”
Both Sudafed and Nexafed contain pseudoephedrine, which is necessary for meth manufacturing. People use meth labs to extract pseudoephedrine from Sudafed. But it is harder to extract pseudoephedrine from Nexafed. Technically, people can manufacture meth from Nexafed using the one-pot method, but it won’t yield as much as Sudafed, Philips-Jones said.
Philips-Jones hopes to convince local pharmacies to switch from Sudafed to Nexafed—which is FDA approved and comparable in price to Sudafed. It will be hard to convince non-local chains to switch, she said. But if local pharmacies switch to Nexafed, it will force people who seek Sudafed to use chains like Walmart and CVS. Because of the registry, those who purchase it for illegal reasons will quickly be identified as exceeding their monthly limit.
In wanting local pharmacies to switch from Sudafed to Nexafed, Philips-Jones hopes to accomplish two things. First, those who hope to purchase Sudafed for manufacturing meth will have to go elsewhere to purchase it.
“I do believe your meth lab numbers here locally will go down if it’s (Sudafed) not available,” Philips-Jones said.
Philips-Jones also hopes with an alternative to Sudafed on the market, lawmakers will be more willing to label Sudafed a prescription drug. This didn’t happen last year.
“They didn’t want the general public to be inconvenienced,” she said.
The biggest hurdle to passing the bill came from law-abiding citizens who take Sudafed for legitimate reasons. But with an alternative to Sudafed now available, Philips-Jones believes the law may pass.
“To me, here is the solution,” she said.
Why it matters
Campbell County sees a lot of meth lab seizures.
By April, there had been 30 meth lab seizures in Campbell County—the third most in Tennessee — which is the second highest state for meth abuse, according to information Philips-Jones presented.
This isn’t a new trend. Tennessee ranked No. 1 in meth labs in 2010, LaFollette Police Chief Jimmy Jeffries said.
And the numbers aren’t declining.
“It’s turning up more and more,” Philips-Jones said, referring to meth labs.
One-pot meth labs have been found in cemeteries, vehicles, hotels and motels, roadside construction sites, rentals and parks and playgrounds.
Besides the moral and social toll this takes on the community, fighting meth costs a lot of money.
“There’s an expensive process to go through to (decontaminate) that area,” Philips-Jones said.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation averages one meth bust a day, according to Philips-Jones. It costs about $5,000 to $25,000 per bust. This costs Tennessee taxpayers $1 billion a year.
One in three people are admitted to hospital burn units because of meth, and most are uninsured, Philips-Jones said. The average cost for treatment is $6,000 per day, or $130,000 per stay. This is 60 percent more than other burn victims.