More than 100 drug offenders can still buy pseudoephedrine
The Knox County Criminal Court Clerk's Office has finally given authorities the names of dozens of offenders charged with methamphetamine-related crimes – something the office has long failed to do.
However, a lot of the information it turned over to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is incomplete, and officials say there isn't much that can be done about it.
That means many offenders convicted of buying, possessing or selling meth can still walk into a pharmacy and buy the drug's main ingredient, pseudoephedrine, despite a state-mandated database that's supposed to alert pharmacists not to sell to offenders.
Still, officials say at least some progress was recently made.
"It felt good (but) it's a shame it took so long to get them on," said state Sen. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, who co-sponsored legislation that created the database.
At issue is the Meth Offender Registry, a list maintained by the TBI and crucial to combating Tennessee's growing methamphetamine problem.
The Law: Meth-Free Tennessee Act of 2005
Criminal Court Clerks throughout the state are responsible for providing the bureau with the names, dates of birth and addresses, of those convicted of possessing, selling or manufacturing methamphetamine, according to state law.
The clerk has to forward a judgment to the TBI within 45 days of a conviction. The TBI is then responsible for removing a name from the online registry seven years after the date of the most recent conviction.
Those on the list are banned from purchasing pseudoephedrine, an over-the-counter decongestant found in cold and sinus medicines.
Previous coverage: Criminal Court Clerk not updating meth registry
A WBIR 10News investigation in February, however, revealed that the Knox County Criminal Court Clerk's Office rarely complies with the law.
For example, the courts have convicted 137 defendants since mid-2008, which is when Joy McCroskey took over the office, according to records. But, her department turned over data for just seven people, or about 5 percent of those convicted.
After the report, though, her office submitted 42 new names to the TBI.
"I would say that was probably in direct response to (the WBIR) story," said Tommy Farmer, director of the Tennessee Meth and Pharmaceutical Task Force.
Farmer said that his office added only 15 of the 42 names to the database because the rest were either duplicates or did not have enough identifiers like a Social Security number or date of birth. That means more than 100 people convicted of meth since mid-2008 still aren't in the system.
McCroskey suggested that more might get submitted, but didn't elaborate.
McNally, who was interviewed for the February 10News story, also has been in touch with the TBI.
"Evidently, some things were falling through the cracks and one wants to make sure it's not done purposefully, that it's somebody who's just not doing their job," he said. "(I wanted to) get to bottom of it, because the registry's important in preventing meth from being manufactured and getting on the streets."
McNally added that the state Administrative Office of the Court also should work with local criminal court clerks.
"I think educating the clerks would certainly be a plus and evidently a lot of them are doing what they're supposed to do, but there are a few who are not," he said.
The registry was created as part of the Meth-Free Tennessee Act of 2005 and is connected to a system pharmacists use to track the sales of pseudoephedrine.
Pharmacists are required to check photo IDs of customers purchasing pseudoephedrine and match them with the database. The system then flags anyone on the registry or those who have reached the legal limits for buying pseudoephedrine without a prescription in Tennessee – currently 9 grams, or about three boxes of pills, in a 30-day period.
State lawmakers are continuing to talk during this year's General Assembly session about pseudoephedrine, and are currently debating whether to further reduce the limits customers can purchase.