For the first time in history, methamphetamine has beaten out marijuana as the most submitted drug to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation's crime lab.
TBI officials believe that rise is tied to the opioid epidemic, which is an issue law enforcement officials are battling daily in Wilson County. Lebanon Police Chief Mike Justice, Wilson County Sheriff Robert Bryan and Assistant District Attorney General Jimmy Lea held a panel discussion and Q&A session on the subject at the Lebanon Noon Rotary Club on Tuesday.
"I can say that someone died of an overdose last night in the county," Lea said. "And we've had someone overdose this morning in the city. Thankfully, the officers were able to administer Narcan this morning, and as of right now that person has survived."
Bryan said the impact of opioid addiction is being felt across the county, regardless of location or demographic, and that many people battling addiction started out by taking what they thought was pain medication.
"We're going to have to educate our people, we're going have to utilize rehab more," he said. "These people think they're taking Xanax or they think they're taking something they're not, but they're getting a hold of this stuff and it's killing them."
According to Lea, those medications are actually laced with dangerous substances like carfentanyl, which can prove lethal even in small doses. His office is primarily combatting the issue with an amendment to the second-degree murder statute.
"That amendment allows us to prosecute people for second-degree murder if we can prove that they have committed any type of unlawful distribution or delivery of fentanyl or carfentanyl," he said. "If you have a dime in your pocket, if you cover Roosevelt's ear with carfentanyl, that is a lethal dose. It's essentially 10,000 times stronger than morphine, and was originally developed as an elephant tranquilizer."
Bryan said a majority of the inmates at the Wilson County Jail are facing addictions, and that the staff tries to help them break the habit while they have them in custody.
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"We cannot arrest our way out of this problem, and we cannot arrest all these addicts -- they need help," he said. "We're going after the dealers. They're the ones who know what they're selling to the people addicted to this stuff, and we're going to prosecute them. That's how we're going to try and address it here in this county."
Bryan said that since the new amendment took effect, the sheriff's office has prosecuted one person for second-degree murder, while the Lebanon Police Department has charged two.
"We have had some cartel dealings, but most of ours are street level folks," Justice said. "That's how this game, if you can call it that, works. If we get a hold of the user, we try and flip them to find the dealer, and flip them to find the next one. It's just a process."
The police department has also assigned a detective specifically to overdoses, meaning that officer works full-time responding only to those calls.
"I don't know of any other county or city department around the nation that has that," Justice said. "We started looking at how many overdoses we were having. Are they living or do they die from them? Nobody had anything that could tell us that information ... we can finally get some statistics on where we're at."
While law enforcement agencies attack the problem by focusing on dealers, local coalition DrugFree WilCo is providing education and resources for the community.
"We have compiled a comprehensive list of all the places in Wilson County that you need to go or send somebody to go in order to get help," Michael Ayalon, the coalition's secretary and treasurer, said. "DrugFreeWilCo.org is the only place I know of that has all this information in one place. There are different kinds, many that are faith-based and many that aren't."
Currently, the organization has approximately 140 volunteers, who look to provide resources and educate people on various aspects of opioid addiction in settings like churches and schools.
Outreach in those youth-oriented environments is important to Bryan, who said it weighs on him the most when a child or young adult overdoses.
"If you've got small kids, or 16 to 17 year old kids, watch your medicine cabinets," Justice said. "Take advantage of the drug take backs. If there's prescription medication in your house you don't need, there are boxes at the police department and sheriff's office you can dump unused medications in. About 30% of the adolescents involved in this stuff, it came from inside their house."
Wilson County is also receiving support from the state level to fight opioid addiction, through a three-year grant for DrugFree WilCo.
"The state of Tennessee, through the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, they gave us a grant," Avalon said. "The total amount now is $532,000 over the next three years to help defeat this opioid crisis. We're all in alignment to help law enforcement deal with this problem that Wilson County is facing, and we're not going to rest until this problem is solved."