(WJHL) – For the first time in Tennessee, methamphetamine is the number one drug submitted to the state’s crime lab, overtaking marijuana.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation says it received around 9,795 submissions of marijuana in 2019, down from more than 10,652 the previous year.
In contrast, methamphetamine cases surged to more than 12,072 last year, an increase of more than 300% over four years.
News Channel 11’s Pheben Kassahun spoke to local prosecutors and law enforcement to find out the reason for the shift in the two drugs.
According to one district attorney, law enforcement has shifted focus to methamphetamine because it is dangerous and has become extremely cheap.
It is the most abused marketed drug in Sullivan County, according to District Attorney General Barry Staubus.
“We’re seeing all-time, new levels, high levels of meth,” Staubus said.
Staubus says the increase is connected to the state’s opioid crisis.
“We’re getting vast amounts through gangs from Atlanta, bringing it here. As a result, we’re seeing an increase in overdoses, increased deaths. We’re seeing an increase in criminal activity, and increasing criminal charges relating to meth use,” the district attorney said.
According to Staubus, Sullivan County has seen an increase in meth being trafficked in large amounts.
“It is cheaper than it was, it’s more powerful than it was,” Staubus said.
In Carter County, the sheriff’s office’s drug task force has seen cases resulting in 140 federal indictments within the past two years.
“A lot of it is gang-related, but the cartels, what they have done is decrease the prices and increase the supply, and it is coming from across the southern border,” said Carter County Sheriff Dexter Lunceford.
Lunceford added that the meth is not only coming from Atlanta, but from cities as far as Los Angeles.
Last year, Carter County had 52 counts of conspiracy.
“They’ve gotten as high as 210 months on their sentences,” Lunceford said.
Sheriff Lunceford says the department has seen an increase in successful indictedments by linking to do a “conspiracy to distribute.”
“If you have ten individuals that are dealing with one ounce apiece. If you do this the way it is historically done, you arrest ten individuals who have ten cases. Each of them has one ounce. If you link them together in a conspiracy, they all ten, get prosecuted for the total amount which would be ten ounces,” Lunceford said.
The sheriff says these cases take longer but are more successful when they are confidential. He added that these cases never end because there is always someone ready to replace distributors and dealers, so it’s pretty much a never-ending cycle.