Tennessee wages war on drug trafficking

From Staff Reports

   A report released earlier this week showed that over $22 million of illegal drugs were seized last year by Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) drug agents or officers from other agencies cooperating with them. The report detailed the work of the TBI's Drug Investigation Division and outlined the agency's goals for the work of the coming year as the state continues its war on illegal drug trafficking.
   The report said the TBI has placed emphasis on enforcement of higher levels of organization within the drug trafficking world. The Bureau is also concentrating on seizures of so called "club drugs" like Ecstasy, illegal use of the prescription painkiller OxyContin, and on shutting down the growing number of methamphetamine labs.
   Seizures of club drugs have grown over the last calendar year, particularly MDMA, which is more often referred to as the rave drug Ecstasy. The TBI seized 28,310 doses of MDMA last year. MDMA has deadly side effects, including raising the abuser's body temperature as high as 107 degrees and can cause permanent neurological damage, coma or death.
   The war on methamphetamine has accelerated over the past few years, as Tennessee is becoming the distribution center for this dangerous drug which has also been called "the poor man's cocaine." According to the TBI officials, this is partially due to the state's prime location as a crossroads to the nation's highways, a factor which makes Tennessee a highly sought after distribution center for many goods.
   The TBI said one of the more disturbing trends is the crossover of this highly addictive drug from the "club drugs" abused by younger drug users. The TBI report defines the use of meth as a serious problem in Tennessee. It has seized 23 meth labs in 1997, 66 in 1998, 85 in 2000 and 95 in 2001. Additionally, local law enforcement agencies working with the federal Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has reported seizures in the state from 42 labs in 1998 to a staggering 650 labs as of September 2001.
   The TBI will also focus on the initiation of intelligence gathering and enforcement efforts to evaluate the threat posed by the illegal diversion of OxyContin. It is becoming a major problem as law enforcement officers report that heroin abusers are obtaining it because the pharmaceutical drug offers similar properties. It is an opiate that acts like morphine. The most widely used diversion technique at the street level is "doctor" shopping. Legislation is presently pending in the General Assembly to gather information on the state of this drug.
   The Drug Unit also seized over 59,000 grams of powder cocaine, 4,014 grams of crack cocaine, 3,203 pounds of marijuana, and 4,976 doses of illegally used prescription drugs.
   Law enforcement and corrections officials have testified before the Committee that 85 percent of all violent crimes and property crimes can be traced back to the illegal drug use of trafficking. The TBI's Drug Investigation Division currently has 42 special agents. The Division's goal is to eventually field at least 100 agents statewide. However, the TBI has asked for nine additional agents in this year's budget.