Sheriff testifies at Capitol about dangers of meth labs

Sheriff testifies at Capitol about dangers of meth labs

Posted: Friday, March 18, 2011 9:02 pm

By KEVIN BOWDEN
Staff Reporter
Obion County’s top lawman gave state legislators a very real look into the world of how meth labs work earlier this week.
Obion County Sheriff Jerry Vastbinder and Weakley County Sheriff Mike Wilson traveled to Nashville Tuesday, where they testified in the state legislature about the dangers associated with meth labs.
Vastbinder told The Messenger today he was one of a large group of lawmen who testified before the House Health and Human Resources Committee regarding House Bill 0181. That bill has to do with electronic tracking of pseudophedrine sales at Tennessee pharmacies.
Tuesday’s hearing lasted nearly four hours, according to Vastbinder, who said he and other law enforcement officials lobbied instead for a system that would require a prescription for pseudophedrine, even if it has to be written by a pharmacist.
In addition to Vastbinder, others who testified at the House committee included state Commissioner of Safety Bill Gibbons, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Director Mark Gwyn, the director of the state Meth Task Force, several chiefs of police and sheriffs, several district attorneys and even a former meth addict.
All testified in support of a pseudophedrine prescription program.
The cold medicine is a primary ingredient used in the manufacture of methamphetamine.
When you consider that, in 2010, the economic impact of meth in Tennessee was more than $1.62 billion, Vastbinder said, tougher measures need to be taken to handle the state’s meth problem.
It’s a message he and others in law enforcement have been preaching for a long time.
Earlier this month Vastbinder and other local law enforcement officials held a special press conference in Union City in support of tougher pseudophedrine laws.
The push by law enforcement officials for tougher pseudophedrine laws is being made necessary in light of the fact that meth lab incidents in Tennessee have increased 41 percent since last year. Tennessee leads the nation in meth lab busts and seizures.
Vastbinder said he wasn’t sure how effective his presentation at the Capitol was considering the financial strength of the pharmaceutical companies. However, he did say that after the committee hearing one legislator met with the law enforcement group and announced he will be taking his name off the list of those supporting House Bill 0181.
After Tuesday’s hearing, the House committee rolled the bill for two weeks in order to give legislators more time to study the issue.
Vastbinder said he and Wilson are scheduled to return to the state Capitol next week to provide more testimony about Tennessee’s meth problem. The local sheriff is a member of the board of directors of the Tennessee Meth Task Force.
A new dimension has been added to law enforcement’s handling of meth labs. Now, agencies such as the Obion County Sheriff’s Department are responsible for the cost to clean up meth labs.
Federal funding for meth lab cleanups has run out.
That’s a serious problem for Vastbinder.
Adding the cost for meth lab cleanups to the sheriff’s department’s budget has Vastbinder very concerned.
In Tennessee, the average cost for a meth lab cleanup exceeds $2,500 and can go as high as $30,000.
In a related matter, a small meth lab was raided this past weekend in the Midway community, just east of Union City.
Deputy Tyree Callens of the Obion County Sheriff’s Department conducted a routine traffic stop on Highway 431 in front of Final Flight Outfitters on Sunday afternoon. During the course of his investigation, he discovered Larry Watkins in the trunk of the vehicle. Watkins was in possession of about five grams of methamphetamine, according to the sheriff’s department, and was charged with the possession and manufacture of a Schedule II substance.
The manufacture charge was added by Callens after his investigation revealed an alleged meth lab at Watkins’ residence at 5857 Highway 431. A search warrant was obtained and three one-pot meth labs were discovered in the kitchen of the residence, according to the sheriff’s department.
Watkins was arraigned earlier this week in Obion County General Sessions Court and he remains in the Obion County Law Enforcement Complex on a $55,000 bond. He is also facing charges in Lauderdale and Tipton counties, according to Vastbinder.
He is still waiting on the bill for the cleanup of the meth lab.
Staff Reporter Kevin Bowden may be contacted by e-mail at kmbowden@ucmessenger.com.

Published in The Messenger 3.18.11

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