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Fewer Meth Labs, But Still No Answers In War On Drugs

2.27.16– Ken Little, The Greeneville Sun

Word this week that methamphetamine lab seizures were down 41 percent in 2015 in Tennessee is good news to those fighting the war against the destructive and highly addictive drug.

As recently as 2010, Tennessee led the nation in meth lab busts, and has consistently been among the top states in that category.

Laws passed several years ago blocking the sale of meth ingredients like pseudoephedrine are cited as one of the reasons for the decline in operations.

But there’s another factor. In recent years, inexpensive forms of nearly pure meth manufactured in Mexico have flooded across the border and found their way to rural locations like Greene County.

No one yet has an answer to cutting off the flow of the deadly drug into the U.S.

Meth labs have been a problem in Northeast Tennessee for years. Corrosive chemicals and toxic fumes made for a volatile mix in the meth manufacturing process. It was not uncommon for labs to explode or burn down when something went awry.

Methods for making the drug have evolved to the point people are able to use a plastic two-liter soda bottle to make personal batches of meth, sometimes known as the “one pot” method.


State Rep. David Hawk, R-Greeneville, co-sponsored legislation to make meth ingredients more difficult to obtain.

Rep. William Lamberth, R-Cottontown, earlier this week highlighted the 2015 results achieved by Tennessee’s real-time, stop-sale pseudoephedrine blocking system, the National Precursor Log Exchange.

Tennessee is one of 32 states that adopted NPLEx as a means of ensuring access to the medicines by the law-abiding public, but prevent diversion of them into methamphetamine by criminals, Lamberth said in a news release.

The results of NPLEx in Tennessee have been noteworthy, Lamberth said.

In 2015, NPLEx blocked the sale of more than 2.2 million grams of PSE, totaling more than 87,000 boxes. Compared to 2014, more than 480,000 fewer grams of PSE were sold in 2015, a 17 percent reduction.

There were 408 fewer meth labs seized by law enforcement in 2015.

In some instances, meth labs were operating in homes where children were present, exposing them to deadly fumes and other dangers, Hawk said.


“I do think the legislation that was introduced several years ago has had a major impact on the reduction of meth labs in Tennessee,” he said. “We knew it would not stop the influx of meth and other illegal drugs into Tennessee.”

Law enforcement officials consider Atlanta a primary distribution point for meth brought into the country by drug cartels. Recent cases in federal and state courts have shown that Georgia is where many area dealers go to get meth, heroin and other drugs sold in Northeast Tennessee.

“It seems like illegal drug distribution activity will go in cycles. Once we address the issues of meth, then heroin becomes the drug of choice,” he said. “We’re trying to address the issues of heroin, then cocaine will come back. It’s an unfortunate, never-ending cycle.”

Law enforcement and lawmakers will never give up trying to stem the flow of illegal drugs, Hawk said.

“We’re fighting an uphill battle against drugs that we have to continue. Our families are being destroyed and people are losing their lives,” he said.


Adam Arrington, director of the 3rd Judicial District Drug Task Force, said meth lab seizures are down throughout the district, which also includes Hawkins, Hancock and Hamblen counties.

“I attribute that to the Mexican connection. It’s not really worth your time to cook dope when you can buy it more readily,” Arrington said.

Some people are driven not only by addiction, but also the profit motive, Arrington said.

He said it’s possible to pay $400 for an ounce of meth in Atlanta and turn the drug around in Greene County for $2,800.

Tracking down dealers has become a pandemic that takes up much of the DTF’s resources, Arrington said.

More manpower is needed to conduct investigations that will help put mid- to major-level dealers in prison, he said.

“Having to combat this being understaffed, it takes away from the prescription pill (cases),” Arrington said.

Meth and prescription pill addiction fuels much of the crime in Greene County, Arrington and other law enforcement officials said.


Meth is extremely addictive, especially the purer imported version sometimes known as “ICE,” he said.

“These are the people who, when they don’t have it, will do anything to get it (like) break into houses,” Arrington said. “Even more so than pillheads, if they don’t have the money they need they will go steal it.”

Arrests for meth possession are a daily occurrence in Greene County, especially among young adults and even teenagers.

“The part that absolutely breaks my heart is more and more young people are turning to this. That is really starting out on the wrong foot because you’ve got a long road to hoe,” Arrington said.

Arrington echoed Hawk’s sentiments about staying the course.


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