SULLIVAN COUNTY, Tenn. (WJHL) – The Virginia Senate passed a bill that declares fentanyl as a weapon of terrorism; meanwhile, local leaders and advocates in Sullivan County, Tennessee are working to address the growing problem the drug poses.

“Right now, fentanyl is our number one drug of choice it seems like,” said Sullivan County District Attorney General Barry Staubus. “Last year, it seems like we had out 60 drug-related deaths and a third of those were fentanyl.”

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is up to 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine. It is a major contributor to fatal and nonfatal overdoses in the U.S. According to the Department of Mental Health and Substances Abuse Services, in 2020 in Tennessee, 2,014 people died of drug overdose related to fentanyl. 

That’s more than double the number from 2019 and an exponential increase from 2015 when there were 169 overdose deaths associated with fentanyl.

Staubus told News Channel 11 there are several steps the county has taken to deal with fentanyl use in the community. A local drug task force is aimed at investigating overdose cases and finding those responsible for selling and distributing fentanyl.

Craig Forrester, the program director of Recovery Resources, said fentanyl use has increased in the Tri-Cities in the last few years. He said he has seen a dramatic increase in patients within that span.

“Heroin moved into our area,” Forrester said. “It’s cheaper, you get higher, and then probably sometime within the [last] five years, we’ve seen the heroin switched to fentanyl. It started out being cut with fentanyl to now the guys that we take into our houses are looking for just straight fentanyl.”

Forrester said education is the key to healing the community and understanding how to handle the crisis of fentanyl.

“The way the community can heal is supporting one another, holding those responsible, and teaching people about the dangers of this drug,” Forrester said.