CARTER COUNTY, Tenn. (WJHL) – As the world tracks COVID-19 numbers, the Carter County Sheriff’s Office is tracking a surge of drugs coming from the southern border of the United States.

Carter County Sheriff Dexter Lunceford told News Channel 11 that his department has seen a dramatic rise in methamphetamine and fentanyl.

“In the last three weeks, we’ve saw a significant up-tick,” he said.

Over the past three years, the Carter County Sheriff’s Office has seen roughly three or four pieces of evidence containing fentanyl as confirmed by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigations laboratory analysis.

Officials said in the last three weeks, roughly half a dozen have been confirmed.

“We saw a gradual decline, to where it almost became nonexistent on the local people making meth, they were purchasing it,” Lunceford explained. “We have some technologies here that allows us to track individuals, and I’m not going to go beyond that.”

He said incidents of people “cooking” meth in his county has gone down, though it has not disappeared. He added though that fentanyl is the next big concern since it is so malleable.

“Now the children are at home with their parents and if their parents are making meth, they can transfer it from their clothing to again, the meth that way is no problem, but if they’re mixing it with fentanyl, then it can become an issue. It’s a problem,” he said.

Federal Drug Enforcement Administration officials say the methamphetamine and fentanyl is coming almost exclusively from Mexico.

“The majority of fentanyl and methamphetamine that make it to the United States is being trafficked across the southern border into the United States,” DEA Agent Michael Miller said. “Just know it’s coming in, it hasn’t stopped, it continues to come in. We’re out there, our local and state partners are out there with us, seizures increased so we’re doing all we can.”

Miller said when the pandemic hit, they received information that drugs were being stockpiled along the southwest border, so they anticipated a surge in drug seizures as a result. He said the agency was ready when the flow of illegal drugs coming across the border increased once pandemic restrictions were lifted.

“So, we were prepared, and part of that being prepared is, you know, you’re seeing our seizures go up,” he said.

When the pandemic hit, over a year ago, Miller explained that the rate of drugs crossing the border slowed, but methods adapted, as we all did.

“I think it’s important to note that during the pandemic there wasn’t much news about drugs coming across the border, but it never stopped. Methods may have changed but the drug traffickers always find a way. So, it never stopped. It didn’t slow down much, there was at the beginning there was a little downtrend, but then it picked right back up again as they figured out how to do business, much like we all have, with Zoom and you know we changed, and so did they. So really hasn’t, it hasn’t stopped. Now, with some sort of semblance of normal returning, borders are changing, again, trafficking is, of drugs is changing so it’s always this cat and mouse game. But now, we’re also seeing more making the news you know we’ve had recent incidents of overdose deaths of children, teenagers who are buying counterfeit pills online, not knowing it’s counterfeit pills, not knowing, you know, just one pill that they buy alike and kill. So it’s starting to make the news again but it’s important to, it hasn’t gone away. Our seizures are up and I can only speak nationally our seizures are up. So we know it’s always been there, we know it has never stopped, and that’s important to know,” he said.

Republican Congresswoman Diana Harshbarger said the southern border is being overrun with asylum seekers, overwhelming Customs and Border Patrol.

“For the CBP, which is the Customs and Border Patrol, they are so unavailable to look at the drug industry coming through, the cartels are just walking through. They made roads so they could build the wall, a lot easier – the wall has been stopped, even though the money’s been allocated, they’re not building the wall – so the cartels are just walking in, and the Customs and Border Patrol are so undermanned and underwomaned, I guess you could say, that they can’t possibly do the job that they should do,” she said. “That’s the problem, the drugs – it’s a side thing for them to push the drugs over because there’s not anybody watching the border. It’s bad. There’s many things that have to be fixed, but they need to do it now, it cannot wait.”