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Changing trends: Meth labs dramatically decline, but meth arrests are up

CARTER COUNTY, TN (WJHL) - The meth game is changing and law enforcement is being forced to tackle the state's huge problem in a different way. Meth was the second most trafficked drug in Tennessee last year.

News Channel 11 found out people are going from making meth to buying it.

It's an interesting trend police have seen over the last few years.

The number of meth labs is going down, but meth arrests are going up.

Today, Marley Scalf works with recovering drug addicts at Recovery Soldiers in Elizabethon.

"I can't believe I used to be addicted to drugs. It's a miracle that I'm free," said Marley Scalf, former a meth addict.

She has her counselor's certificate and she's happily married. But 6 years ago her life looked very different.

"Whenever I was 18, I was a full-blown meth addict. I put a needle in my arm every day and I actually made meth for my own use," said Scalf. 

This is what she looked like on meth in 2012. Scalf says she was a young woman -- sexually abused as a child looking to fill a void by eventually turning to meth.

"Imagine being the sickest you've ever been. That's how I was if I didn't have this drug," said Scalf. 

It's no secret that meth has been a big problem around the country and in northeast Tennessee for years. But now law enforcement say the meth problem is evolving

Six years ago, a lot of people were making meth across Tennessee. The impact can be seen in the hundreds of boarded up old meth homes under quarantine around the Tri-Cities. For the fifth straight year, meth lab busts across the state are declining. Numbers from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation show nearly 2,000 meth lab busts in 2012 to just over 200 last year.

"What's happening now is, it's organized," said Dexter Lunceford, Carter County Sheriff. "They're bringing the meth in and they can bring it in and sell it cheaper and with less risk than you can make it."

Last year, law enforcement in Tennessee saw nearly 10,000 meth incidents -- a 41% increase from 2016.

Sheriff Lunceford says his county saw it's biggest bust last year too -- his officers pulling 23 kilos of meth off the streets.

Lunceford says he's actually created a five-member drug unit with the Elizabethton Police Department to tackle the problem in Carter County.

They do a lot of work behind the scenes and Sheriff Lunceford says they're making big strides.

" We have a link analysis that links every known drug dealer in Carter County... that database continues to grow every time we make an arrest," said Lunceford. 

He says crime in the county has fallen 23% over the last 3 years because of these efforts. Scalf's efforts have also paid off. After going through a 13-month faith-based recovery program she's now 6 years clean and helping others.

"My message to people is you can be free you can hope outside of drug addiction," said Scalf. 

Sheriff Lunceford says some of this meth is coming in illegally from Mexico. The drug unit has actually been able to trace it from Mexico to California and eventually to the Tri-Cities. 

Lunceford also told News Channel 11 another reason we're seeing the shift from meth being made to being sold is because several laws are now in place making it harder for people to get the ingredients to make meth.


 


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