TRI-CITIES (WJHL) – Tennessee state leaders issued a call to action for a drug up to 100 times more powerful than morphine.
Local law enforcement say they are on alert for fentanyl, described by the Tennessee Department of Health as an extremely powerful synthetic opioid, sometimes prescribed legally to manage intense pain.
“We have had some increased presence of fentanyl,” Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office Captain Andy Seabolt said. “The dangers of the drug, we can’t stress enough how dangerous this drug is.”
It comes on the heels of a news conference held in Nashville, where state leaders and law enforcement said they have seen a major spike in fentanyl cases.
“We had 3 in 2012, we had 184 in 2016. And we’re projecting 240 this year,” said TBI Director Mark Gwyn.
Misusing the drug and its derivatives, health officials say, can be deadly, and the consequences are all too familiar to the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office.
“We’ve had 3 overdose deaths from it within a short term, and those three occurred within a month’s time span,” Captain Seabolt said.
In Johnson City, Police Chief Mark Sirois said their cases have typically been in connection with other drugs.
“If we encounter fentanyl it would typically be in association with another drug, typically heroine which we are seeing some in our area, and sometimes it’s used as a cutting agent in cocaine as well,” said Chief Sirois.
From his perspective, though, Sirois said, “Any amount of an illegal drug in your community is too much and especially one that has such deadly effects as this one.”
No matter the city or county, all stress the same message to the public.
“We are incredibly worried about mass causalities that could come from these illicit drugs,” said Gwyn.
“Don’t use these drugs. Don’t touch these drugs,” said TDH Commissioner Dr. John Dreyzehner.
The Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office and Johnson City police said they have received extra training on how to handle the drug fentanyl.
Sullivan County deputies are in the process of getting some extra equipment, including protective suits, to deal with the powerful drug.
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