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By Beth Braden

CAMPBELL COUNTY—A new state attorney general opinion isn’t stopping local officials in the fight to combat the county’s methamphetamine problems.

The opinion said towns cannot pass laws on a local level that require a prescription for medication containing pseudoephedrine — one of the main ingredients in methamphetamine.

Local laws cannot be more restrictive than state law, said 8th Judicial District Attorney Lori Phillips-Jones. At least one town — Winchester, in Middle Tennessee — passed a prescription law earlier this year. The attorney general opinion renders that law null and void now because it is more restrictive than state law, said Phillips-Jones.

While none of Campbell County’s towns have passed the prescription law, Phillips-Jones has been working with local pharmacies to restrict access to the pseudoephedrine without violating the law.

“They still have had some meth labs, but there’s a whole lot less Sudafed out there for them to make meth out of. We feel like our smurfers have really been reduced. The pharmacists talk about what a blessing it is ‘cause now people know they don’t have Sudafed,” she said.

Smurfers is a slang term used to refer to individuals who purchase pseudoephedrine at various pharmacies to avoid detection. A typical smurfing scheme might involve several individuals making a purchase and then taking the medication back to the cook.

In Tennessee, it is legal to purchase up to 3.6 grams of pseudoephedrine a day, or 9 grams a month. A typical pseudoephedrine pill has 30 milligrams of the drug. Buyers can purchase up to 300 of the pills each month before hitting the legal limit.

In May, Phillips-Jones said she began asking pharmacies to sell Sudafed alternatives such as Zephrex D or Nexafed. The active ingredient, pseudoephedrine, is still present in the alternatives, but the chemical make up of the medicine makes it harder to extract the pseudoephedrine.

Meth cooks extract pseudoephedrine from Sudafed by crushing the pills and then filtering it. When a meth cook attempts to crush Nexafed, it will instead turn into a gel.

Terry’s Pharmacy is one of several local pharmacies stocking a Sudafed alternative. Pharmacist Justin Wilson said there hasn’t been a lot of demand for the drug. For those who have purchased the alternative, the difference is minimal.

“It’s still [pseudoephedrine], it’s just a formulation they make it in. The cost is comparably the same. You’re talking a $1 to $2 difference,” Wilson said.

Riggs Drug Store went a step further and stopped stocking over-the-counter pseudoephedrine all together.

“As soon as we did that most of the guys that were wanting to come in and sign for it went away immediately,” said pharmacist Bill Fannon.

Riggs will still fill a prescription for pseudoephedrine from a doctor’s office. Fannon says they fill probably 100 prescriptions for the drug every month.

While pharmacists combat the problem on a local level, State Rep. Dennis Powers (R-Jacksboro) is preparing to introduce a bill when the legislature resumes in January. The bill would change the state law to say that everybody must have a prescription to get pseudoephedrine. The bill would also give pharmacists the ability to prescribe the medication to patients. This would prevent the need to visit a doctor.

“We have such a terrible meth problem in our area, we’re doing everything we can to stop it, Powers said.

Power’s co-sponsor for the bill is Sen. Ferrell Haile (R-Gallatin), a pharmacist.

Other states, such as Oregon and Mississippi have opted to require a prescription for pseudoephedrine in recent years. Oregon saw only four meth labs in an entire year, Mississippi saw only 14, Powers said.

Legislature will reconvene on Jan. 14, 2014. It could be early February before Powers’ bill is considered.