State meth offender registry doesn’t list all convictions from Shelby County.

If you're using the Tennessee Meth Offender Registry as your guide, it looks as though only four people in Shelby County were convicted of selling or manufacturing methamphetamine or purchasing pseudoephedrine with the intent to make meth in 2013, and all of those convictions happened in the first two months of the year.

But that doesn't mean meth has disappeared from the county. The state registry is falling short on listing all meth offenders, thanks in part to vague state drug laws and computer error.

The registry is a tool used by pharmacists to prevent the sale of pseudoephedrine to those who have been convicted of meth offenses, but without all convictions listed, some meth offenders across the state are not banned from its purchase.

The state law banning the sale, manufacture, and distribution of controlled substances lists all drugs under one banner, separating them only by their schedule designations. For example, meth is a Schedule II narcotic, but so is cocaine and morphine. Because of this, Criminal Court clerks charged with reporting meth data to the Tennessee Meth and Pharmaceutical Task Force may not be able to distinguish meth convictions from other drug charges. And thus, some offenders are not listed on the registry.

"It shows up as a general drug category. It may not necessarily read 'meth.' Not the clerk nor the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation actually knows if it's an opioid or methamphetamine," said Tommy Farmer, the TBI special agent in charge of the Tennessee Meth and Pharmaceutical Task Force.

Farmer said state laws would need to be recodified so that each individual drug violation has its own Tennessee code annotated number in order to fix the problem.

Farmer said a glitch in the system earlier this year also led to some meth offenses from a number of counties not making it onto the registry.

"I have 65 out of 95 counties that have reported, but I have 33 reports that came in null. There was an error message in the transmission, so I don't know what counties they came from," Farmer said. "I got the records, but the counties of origin didn't come through."

But Farmer believes the database is still doing its job of blocking some from purchasing the drugs used to make meth. In 2013, 238 people across the state were blocked from buying pseudoephedrine a total of 433 times.

Still, two Walgreens stores in Shelby County are among the top five for most pseudoephedrine sold in the state this year. A store on Highway 72 near Germantown sold 13,177 grams of pseudoephedrine and one in Collierville sold 11,231 grams in 2013. Sergeant Chris Harris with the Shelby County Sheriff's Office Narcotics Division thinks he may know the reason for that.

"Mississippi has legislation banning the sale of pseudoephedrine without a prescription, and those two Walgreens are right near the state line. [People from Mississippi] are coming up here, buying their pseudo, and going back to Mississippi and cooking meth," Harris said.

The number of meth arrests and lab seizures is down in the county for the year, Harris said. Countywide stats were not available at press time, but the Memphis Police Department reports that it has recovered 478 grams of meth and shut down 19 labs so far this year. That's compared with 1,687 grams and 66 labs for all of 2012. Harris attributes the decrease in lab seizures to large-scale cooks serving jail time.

"A lot of the cases generated over the past couple years have been prosecuted federally, so a lot of the guys who were cooking have gotten substantial jail time and are incarcerated now," Harris said.

Harris said they're now finding more meth being shipped in from other places rather than being cooked here: "We're seeing a lot of meth being brought into the city from the West Coast or Mexico or Atlanta."

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