Director Tommy Farmer of the Tennessee Methamphetamine Drug Task Force said the meth epidemic showed a dramatic decrease in manufacturing labs since the state made it tougher last year to buy Ephedrine, the key component of the illegal drug.
More than 1,565 labs were seized in the peak year of 2005 while only 210 labs were confiscated this year. Tennessee is still fourth in the nation for confiscation of illegal meth labs.
"But just because we reduced the labs, we didn't reduce the meth addicts by the same amount," Farmer said. "When you find a meth addict, you find a poly drug user. … They're trying to go after something as a similar effect."
In Murfreesboro and Rutherford County, three lieutenants who supervise drug units have seen an increase in Ecstasy pills and prescription painkillers to take the place of meth. Ecstasy is a man-made drug similar to methamphetamine and popular with young adults.
Crack cocaine and marijuana are still the most preferred drugs while the hallucinogenic LSD is making a comeback.
They've also seen an increase in property crimes to support illegal drug habits — a trend that affects everyone.
Murfreesboro Vice Lt. Nathan McDaniel said about 70 to 85 percent of the city's property crimes are directly related to drugs.
"When you get burglars, most times it's somebody on crack," McDaniel said. "Crack's our biggest problem."
Sheriff's Lt. Chris Haynes, who supervises the Interstate Crime Enforcement Unit, estimated 85 percent of the county's property crimes are drug-related.
"It affects everybody because insurance rates are higher because of property crimes," Haynes said. "It affects 100 percent of everybody in some way."
Illegal drugs may be related to shootings and murders too, Haynes said.
Sheriff's Lt. Egon Grissom, who supervises the narcotics division, said increases in drug use and abuse costs taxpayers more to pay for prosecuting defendants and jailing prisoners.
Farmer said meth users in particular endanger their children when manufacturing the illegal drug at home.
"It's such a drain on society," Farmer said. "It is not a victimless crime. It destroys the whole core of the family."
Drugs of choice
The sheriff's office attacks the drug problem through confiscations by the ICE unit and through long-term investigations by the narcotics unit.
Haynes said marijuana is the No. 1 drug of choice followed by cocaine. The quality of the marijuana is improved with a higher potency than 10 to 15 years ago, he said.
ICE deputies stopped a 14-pound delivery of cocaine to Murfreesboro last week.
Ecstasy, a drug commonly used by young people for a high, is becoming more popular. It's shipped from Mexico to Atlanta to Middle Tennessee for distribution.
"Our unit has seized over 14,000 Ecstasy pills this year," Haynes said.
Grissom estimated Ecstasy sells for about $7 to $10 per pill. It's popular with college students.
Like Ecstasy, psychedelic mushrooms are popular with young adults and college students.
Haynes said ICE officers confiscated about three pounds of the dried long-stem and button mushrooms last year that sell for about $180 per ounce.
Grissom said his detectives focus on long-term cases, trying to stop the drug dealers and suppliers.
Detectives seized about 100 to 150 hits of LSD through sales and a search warrant of college students' residences. The drug is sold on pieces of blotter paper for $10 a hit.
"You put it on your tongue and let it dissolve," Grissom said. "I'm told it's more potent than it was in the '60s and '70s. You don't know how potent it is. People need to be aware of it."
Another disturbing trend is the increase in abuse of prescription drugs.
People get prescriptions from different doctors but pharmacists frequently work with law enforcement agencies on abusers.
McDaniel, who supervises Murfreesboro's drug unit, said crack cocaine is the No. 1 drug in Murfreesboro.
"There's heavyweight here," McDaniel said, observing, "Cocaine is the only drug you can buy from a total stranger".
Runners for drug dealers on the street commonly sell crack cocaine.
Murfreesboro Police's special Crime Suppression Unit investigates the street dealers while the vice unit goes over the mid- to upper-level dealers.
Ecstasy appeals to young adults and teens. It's commonly sold in nightclubs and bars.
Some disturbing trends are the increase of heroin or prescription drug abuse.
"We've seen heroin pop up in the last year," McDaniel said.
Heroin is packaged in small balloons. The drug may be shot up with a needle, smoked or inhaled.
Many users of prescription pills order the drugs from the Internet from Mexico or steal from family members.
Teens steal from parents or grandparents and bring the mix of drugs to parties where everyone combines the prescriptions. They select a pill and take it without knowing what they're using. Teens also sniff glue and the gas from whipped cream containers.
Farmer said drug abusers are using clandestine labs to develop other compounds of drugs. They are using the Internet and technology to make the drugs in the secret labs.
"In my opinion, we will deal with the clandestine production of synthetic drugs" such as acid or GHB, commonly sold in gyms, Farmer predicts. "The future is synthetic. All types of substances will be diverted from legitimate uses."
To combat the problem, a comprehensive approach must be used.
"We just can't let law enforcement fix in by putting people in jail," Farmer said.
Drug courts are addressing the addiction of drugs and offering treatment to help fight the war on drugs.
The drug problem affects everyone, the director said.
Users and abusers frequently are unemployed and don't contribute to the economy, taking away from the job market and lowering the tax base, Farmer said. With prolonged use, the users will have to rely on public health and nursing home care. Their children are at risk from exposure to drugs and deals.
"You have to stop that behavior," Farmer said.
Lisa Marchesoni may be reached at 869-0814 or at email@example.com.