Meth busts highlight ongoing drug problem

By: Kate Burgess Email
By: Kate Burgess Email

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -- It's a familiar sight; the decontamination, the trailer, and the caution tape.

Nine more arrests for cooking meth Friday in Sweetwater, ten people hosed down at an active meth lab Sunday in Blount County.

"We have an epidemic of addiction in country and our state," said Tennessee Meth Task Force Director Tommy Farmer.

Sunday night's meth bust in Blount County is part of an aggressive effort to seek out active meth labs. Law enforcement is working with local pharmacies to track pseudo ephedrine sales, and trace them straight to the cookers.

Rachel Keener, a pharmacist at Lowe's Drug Store in Maryville told us, "Anytime somebody comes in needing pseudo ephedrine, we track that electronically, it goes through a database that everyone in Tennessee uses. So we put in the patient's information and it tells us real time if the patient has gotten Sudafed even ten minutes ago. The database comes back and says this person is ineligible to receive their medication, so we tell them they've already gotten their max amount and we don't sell it to them."

The max amount is 9 grams, or 3 boxes every 30 days. But Farmer said while the tracking system works well for Blount County, it's difficult to enforce in rural areas.

"It can be lack of resources, lack of intelligence..."

Or lack of pharmacies. All pharmacists are required to electronically track pseudo ephedrine sales, and share the information through a statewide database. But because there aren't as many pharmacies in less populated counties, law enforcement there can't keep track of who's buying Sudafed.

"They're traveling to another county, in order to obtain what they need, the precursor for methamphetamine," Farmer added.

The Monroe County Sheriff's Department isn't saying whether distance played a role at the Sweetwater bust. But Farmer said, law enforcement is definitely over extended.

"We've stretched what we're asking our law enforcement to do. But we have no choice."

Meanwhile, the 10 people decontaminated in Blount County haven't been charged.

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