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Hundreds Of Meth Offenders Avoid Blocks On Drug Purchases

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Hundreds Of Meth Offenders Avoid Blocks On Drug Purchases

By Ben Hall. CREATED May 9, 2014

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is aggressively working to fix a problem discovered as a result of a NewsChannel 5 investigation.

Our investigation found a major flaw in a critical tool used to fight meth.

The pharmacy-based tracking system that monitors the sale of pseudoephedrine, the main ingredient in meth and in most allergy drugs, is failing to block hundreds of convicted meth offenders from buying pseudoephedrine.

State law requires pharmacists to enter the driver's license information of potential buyers into a national tracking system called NPLEx.

The tracking system determines whether a buyer has reached his monthly limit or been convicted of a meth related crime.

In both cases, it should recommend blocking the sale.

But we discovered 777 convicted meth offenders made more than 5,400 illegal purchases of pseudoephedrine in Tennessee last year.

"I can't answer why they were allowed to purchase," said Special Agent Tommy Farmer with the TBI's Meth Task Force.

The TBI task force oversees the state Meth Offender Registry, which is published online.

The TBI's own numbers show nearly one out of every five people on the registry bought pseudoephedrine last year.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates stated, "That's more than 5000 purchases and 777 people. We could go a long way to stopping the meth problem if we could stop them."

"I think it's substantial. It would go a good ways," Farmer responded.

We asked, "These are people that are putting down their ID?"

"Absolutely," Farmer said.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates followed, "And they are buying even though they are on the registry?"

"I agree," he responded.

Eric Schutzenhoffer pled guilty to a felony meth charge, and was put on the Meth Offender Registry in 2007.

But since 2012, we found he has used his driver's license to buy pseudoephedrine at least seven times.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked, "How does that happen?"

"He shouldn't have," Farmer said. "I don't know that I can give you a much better answer."

Farmer said he does not know because the tracking system is not run by the TBI or the state.

It is run by a Louisville-based company called Appriss.

"I do not know of a reason why if we had been told to block those folks that we not block them. It's certainly not what we want to do," the company's vice president, Jim Acquisto said.

The tracking system Appriss operates is used by pharmacies in Tennessee and 29 other states.

Acquisto said it's not their fault that convicted meth offenders are buying pseudoephedrine.

"If the TBI tells us to block a person, we block them," Acquisto said.

"We gave them 777 names. They're the ones that allowed them to buy. Apparently, they had the names. We know they were meth offenders and that they were allowed to circumvent the system," Farmer responded, 

Our questions led to finger pointing from both sides.

"What it boils down to is when they tell us to block a person, and if they give us the information, we'll block them. All we need is a name and a date of birth, and we'll block the person," Acquisto said.

In a later statement, Appriss blasted the the TBI, claiming the agency sometimes does not send them the middle name of a person who should be blocked and it has never sent the driver's license number.

"Do I think the information is adequate for them? Absolutely," Farmer said.

But the TBI later said it discovered it has not been sending driver's license information as required by state law to Appriss.

The TBI promised to start sending the numbers immediately, but added that Appriss should still have been able to block people.

Critics of Appriss, including two U.S. congressman, have questioned the way the company is paid.

The private, for-profit company is paid by drug companies to run the tracking system. It is provided free to the states.

In 2012, U.S. Rep. Phil Roe of East Tennessee asked the Department of Justice to investigate the relationship, questioning whether it was a conflict of interest.

Appriss insisted there is no conflict and that drug companies want to be part of the solution to the meth crisis.

The Department of Justice has taken no public action since the letter was sent in 2012.

The TBI is now sending hundreds of drivers license numbers of meth convicts to Appriss.

People on the front lines of the meth crisis like Drug Task Force Agent Michael Pate of the 23rd Judicial Task force just want the problem fixed.

He said he arrests many of the same people over and over, and he is frustrated Tennessee is number two in the nation for the number of meth labs.

As for Eric Schutzenhoffer, he was arrested again in Nashville on meth charges in December.

"That's the part that drives us crazy, a convicted meth cook should not be able to obtain sudaphed period. It just does not make sense," Pate said.

Ben Hall

Ben Hall

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Ben Hall is a veteran reporter at NewsChannel 5. He has covered the state legislature, presidential campaigns and is presently part of NewsChannel 5's award-winning investigative unit.