Dealing drugs over the counter
Mountain Press, Greg Johnson, December 6, 2005
There. I just threw three pills down my throat.
Now I can write, then exercise, then work. It's
Finding my two blood pressure medications and an
over-the-counter allergy tablet with bleary eyes,
sleepy hands and a foggy mind is my first goal in
the morning. Doctor's orders. Mother's orders, too.
Diane's orders as well.
My ritual isn't so different from so many other
Americans. We are a nation of drug users.
A "medicate-it mindset" has conditioned us to deal
with our problems too often with a bottle, either of
pills or alcohol. That mindset has led to
ever-increasing innovation and availability of
medications that make our days easier and our lives
But those very medications, the ones for our
everyday health problems, have now created larger
issues. They are, as Capt. Randy Parton of the
Sevier County Sheriff's Department put it, "A danger
to society as a whole."
Parton is Sheriff Bruce Montgomery's right-hand man
when it comes to drug enforcement and was talking
about the problem with methamphetamine. Montgomery
and Parton have been involved with the fight against
meth since 2000 when they joined the South/East
Tennessee Methamphetamine Task Force.
District Attorney Al Schmutzer Jr. and other
district attorneys, working with Gov. Phil Bredesen,
have now started a "Meth Destroys" campaign to
increase public awareness of the problem.
Meth is synthesized, "cooked" as Parton describes
it, in small "labs" using Mason jars, pots and pans,
Pyrex dishes and turkey basters. Those labs can be
in a shed, a home, a motel room or rental cabin.
Meth is formed by cooking over-the-counter
medications containing ephedrine and pseudoephedrine
into a solid, powder form. The meth can then be
snorted or ingested with a liquid. For a quicker
high, users will inject it or smoke it from a pipe.
Since 1999, 31 meth labs have been found in Sevier
County. The meth problem is particularly acute in
our region. Of the 5,304 meth labs seized in
Tennessee since 1999, 3,840 of them were in East
Why is meth a danger to society as a whole? In 2004,
the Department of Children's Services removed over
800 children from their homes because of meth. The
residual materials used in cooking meth, anhydrous
ammonia from fertilizer, phosphorous from book
matches and sodium metal from batteries, are
explosive and present public safety and
The situation appears to be improving. Since the
Tennessee Legislature passed the Meth-Free Tennessee
Act of 2005, meth lab seizures have declined from
1,534 in 2004 to 955 in 2005 statewide and from 14
to 4 in Sevier County. The act toughened
enforcement, raised awareness and required
pharmacists to put medications containing ephedrine
and pseudoephedrine behind the counter.
But meth is not the only problem stemming from
Teenagers have turned to Triple C. Triple C derives
its name from Coricidin Cough and Cold. This cold
medicine, along with dozens of others including some
pediatric cold formulas, contains dextramethorphan (DXM).
When used in prescribed doses, DXM helps alleviate
cold symptoms. When taken in large quantities, it
makes kids high.
One user of DXM described his experience on a Web
site: "I decided to put on a pair of shoes, and had
a great deal of trouble as I could barely see this
world. I felt like an alien being, I had no concept
of speech, no ability to walk, no concept of self.
The effects of the dose lasted for at least three
days, and the shear magnitude of it still is with
Internet Web sites even coach kids on how much cough
and cold medicine they'll need to sneak out of mom
and dad's medicine cabinet to get high. Those Web
sites don't tell teenagers that Triple C can lead to
seizures, brain damage and even death, particularly
when combined with alcohol.
Meth is at the front of the public mind, at least in
part, because of the property damage it can cause
landlords, hoteliers and cabin owners. Our greater
concern should be the dangers meth causes kids. And
if we're concerned about what meth can do to kids,
we should be equally concerned about Triple C.
Both are dangers to society as a whole.
- Greg Johnson is a Sevier County native and writes
this column for The Mountain Press. E-mail him at