TBI Director: Overdoses kill more people in TN than car crashes - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

TBI Director: Overdoses kill more people in TN than car crashes

(SOURCE: WMC Action News 5) (SOURCE: WMC Action News 5)
(SOURCE: WMC Action News 5) (SOURCE: WMC Action News 5)
(SOURCE: WMC Action News 5) (SOURCE: WMC Action News 5)

Mexican drug cartels are flooding Tennessee with heroin laced with an even more deadly drug called fentanyl, according to Mark Gwyn, Director of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

“We’re seeing overdoses go through the roof in the state. We had more overdose deaths in the state last year than we had traffic fatalities,” Gwyn told the Memphis Rotary Club on Tuesday, September 20, 2016. 

State records show that 1,263 people died from opioid overdoses in 2015 in the state; 965 people died in Tennessee traffic fatalities last year.

“This fentanyl is 100 times more potent than heroin to the point that I’ve given every agent in TBI a drug called naloxone which is an opioid reversal drug,” Gwyn said. “If you touch this fentanyl, just touch it, you will overdose so as agents are out there buying what they think is heroin or other drugs, cocaine, we have found that they’re buying pure fentanyl, so I’ve had to equip them with naloxone in case an agent overdoses while they’re purchasing these drugs from a drug dealer."

Gwyn said he serves on a Drug Enforcement Agency committee that gets briefed on trends in Mexican drug cartel activities twice a year. Gwyn said the DEA tracked drug traffickers from Mexico taking control of U.S. heroin sales from Asian cartels.

In addition to the heroin laced with fentanyl, Gwyn said the Mexican drug dealers have pounced on Tennessee as a prime market for other opioids in pill form, such as Percocet, oxycodone, and hydrocodone--sometimes drug users are using pure fentanyl and selling it as one of those drugs instead. 

“Let’s face it, Tennessee has always had an opioid problem and a pill problem,” Gwyn told Rotarians. “Tennessee is always #1 or #2 in the nation in pills dispensed per person. So the Mexican cartels knew that there was a great demand in the state. It’s no coincidence that they’re flooding Tennessee with heroin and these pills because they know there’s a lot of people addicted to prescription medication in the state.  What we weren’t expecting…was this fentanyl problem.” 

Gwyn said some communities are seeing 10 to 15 overdoses in two or three day periods from pills abusers who think are taking Percocet, Oxycodone, or Hydrocodone but are ingesting pure fentanyl instead.

“This is how Prince, the music star, overdosed, pills that he thought were oxycodone but turned out to be nothing but fentanyl,” Gwyn said.  Gwyn said the fentanyl crisis surprised the TBI just as it began to get control of meth labs across the state.

At one time, Tennessee had as many as 1,600 methamphetamine labs busted in the space of one year.

"We’re down to 300 or 400 which is a good number,” Gwyn said of the annual meth lab busts the TBI is seeing now. “I think we’re going to start seeing fentanyl labs start showing up not only in this country but in the state. It’s probably going to replace the meth labs, and to me, they’re a lot more dangerous and a lot more volatile than the meth labs."

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