East Tennessee lawmaker fights drug epidemic through gift card sales

# # State

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) - Tennessee State Sen. Richard Briggs filed his "Organized Retail Crime theft" bill on Monday in the hopes of combating the drug epidemic. After talking with law enforcement, he was learning people were selling stolen gift cards and using that money to buy drugs.

He said groups of people will steal merchandise from a store and then return the items without a receipt to get a store valued card. Briggs said pawn shops will then buy the cards at a discount.

"We had $200 million that were stolen from such large retailers such as Walmart, Lowes, Target,"
he said.

He's looking to provide a free statewide database for law enforcement to track these sales. The Knox County Sheriff's Office already has a similar tool but Briggs said every department does not. The downside for deputies in Knox County is that they rely on pawn shops to input the information online. Briggs plans to place more regulations on pawn shops.

"You have to collect and submit this data, you have to register with us or there will be fees and penalties,"
said Briggs.

"Anything we can do to control that part of this addiction, we need to do that,"
said Chief Lee Tramel with the Knox County Sheriff's Office.

Chief Tramel said it's happening every day and many times, people are stealing several times a day. The Knox County Sheriff's Office said at least one gift card was sold more than 600 times in the last month.

The Knoxville Police Department is fighting the same threat. From April to June of 2017, officers responded to 98 people who overdosed. Thirty-nine of them, nearly 40 percent, sold gift cards to pawn shops or second hand stores.