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Failures Allow Meth Offenders To Keep Buying Pseudoephedrine

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Failures Allow Meth Offenders To Keep Buying Pseudoephedrine

By Ben Hall. CREATED May 9, 2014

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Large numbers of convicted meth offenders are not getting entered into the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation's Meth Offender Registry.

The failure allows meth convicts to buy allergy medicines containing pseudoephedrine -- a key ingredient in meth -- without being blocked by pharmacists.

It is the second major failure NewsChannel 5 Investigates discovered involving the law that requires people to show ID when they purchase most allergy medicines.

Our initial investigation revealed the national tracking system, used by pharmacies in Tennessee, failed to block 777 convicted meth offenders from buying pseudoephedrine last year.

All the offenders were on the Meth Offender Registry, but the tracking system did not recognize that they should be blocked.

After our report, the TBI supplied the private company that runs the tracking system with the driver's license numbers of convicted meth offenders so the company could identify and block the offenders at the point of sale.

The newest finding reveals that many meth offenders never get onto the registry in the first place.

Cannon County has a big meth problem.

Law enforcement found 89 meth labs in the county last year according Anthony Young who is an investigator with the sheriff's department.

Young said they arrest the same people over and over.

"Some of these people are caught three, four, five times," Young said.

According to state law, convicted meth offenders are supposed to be entered into the Meth Offender Registry.

All names on the registry are banned from buying pseudoephedrine.

But NewsChannel 5 Investigates discovered not one person from Cannon County is listed on the registry.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked Young, "When you hear Cannon County has zero what do you think?"

"I think there should be some listed on there, because we have a bunch of meth cases," Young said.

And Cannon County is not alone.

Six other counties, including Robertson County, have never reported a meth conviction to the TBI.

Many others reported surprisingly low numbers.

Rutherford County currently has just seven names on the registry -- with no new names added since 2009 and Cheatham county has only four names.

By state law, it's up to the TBI to maintain the Meth Offender Registry.

"Could there be better communication on our part," ask special Agent Tommy Farmer. "I'm sure that we probably could communicate better."

Farmer blames county court clerks for not sending the TBI information about convictions.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked, "Should the TBI be reaching out the county clerks?"

"How do I know who to reach out to?" Farmer responded.

We started with the court clerk in Cannon County.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked, "Why is there no one on there from Cannon County?"

Clerk Lynne Foster responded, "Well we didn't know to send them to the TBI."

Foster said the first time she heard about the state law requiring her to report meth convictions was when we asked her.

"Really I don't remember that we were ever asked to send orders to them for meth convictions," Foster said.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates responded, "So you were surprised to hear that?"

"A bit surprised yes," Foster said.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked Farmer, "Why do you think that clerk didn't know?"

"Well, that's unfortunate," Farmer responded. "That clerk should know. It's going to be that clerk's responsibility to stay up on the laws."

Lawmakers have expressed frustration over the registry, so their answer this session was to expand it.

Beginning next year, clerks must report all felony drug offenses to the TBI instead of just meth offenses.

All will be banned from buying pseudoephedrine.

But Farmer questions whether turning the Meth Offender Registry into a Drug Offender Registry will end the problems.

"You'll increase the number of people on the registry," Farmer said. "You'll increase the number of people that are blocked, but you'll also increase the number of people that can circumvent it."

After our questions County Clerk Lynn Foster is promising changes in Cannon County.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked, "What are you going to start doing?"

Foster replied, "Well if anyone is convicted of meth charges we will fax them. The TBI said we can fax them."

Just days ago the first name from Cannon County appeared on the registry.

The TBI says many counties don't have a way to send the information electronically, so it is sometimes faxed to them.

A situation they admit is not efficient.

 
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.