KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has named the projected top 10 drugs in Tennessee’s cases submitted to the TBI’s Crime Labs for testing from law enforcement.
Many of the names of the top 10 drugs that TBI named in a press conference Wednesday are recognizable drug names, however, some are a bit more obscure. Through information gathered by through samples submitted to the TBI’s Crime Labs by law enforcement agencies across the state., the TBI was able to determine what drugs are most often involved in criminal cases across the state.
During a press conference on June 7, Assistant Director of the TBI’s Forensic Services Division Mike Lyttle and Special Agent in Charge Jim Williams explained the drug trends that they are seeing in Tennessee this year. Here are all 10 drugs they predicted to be involved in the most cases this year, as well as the drugs they say should be watched out for.
10. Delta-9 THC
Delta-9 THC is one of the three THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, products that is legal in Tennessee, however, the TBI says Cannabis Sativa containing concentrations of 0.3% or higher of THC is still illegal.
Lyttle explained that these cases involved substances where the THC has been separated from the plant materials, such as in edibles. There are projected to be 504 cases involving Delta-9 THC.
The ninth drug to make the list is one that Lyttle says is not being talked about much these days. Xylazine, or “Tranq,” is a powerful sedative that is approved for veterinary use by the FDA, the Drug Enforcement Administration says. Lyttle said he is not aware of cases where Xylazine is being used on its own, but it is commonly seen in combination with fentanyl. The TBI has begun paying attention to the drug in recent years, and Lyttle says that the TBI thinks Xylazine may be added to fentanyl because it may prolong or enhance the high associated with t.
One of the major concerns with Xylazine is that it is not an opiate, Lyttle explained, so if Narcan is administered to someone who appears to be experiencing a fentanyl overdose, the person will not respond the same way because Narcan only works on opioid overdoses. In 2023, the TBI estimates there will be 564 cases involving Xylazine.
The eighth drug could be a complicated addition to the list. Lyttle explained that Buprenorphine is a drug used to combat opiate addiction, however, since it comes in a small strip form, it can be ideal for sneaking into prisons. A DEA document says the drug may also be known by the trade names Buprenex, Suboxone, Subutex, Zubsolv, Sublocade, and Butrans.
The TBI found that the drug peaked around 2014-2015, but it has been climbing recently. The TBI projects there will be 692 cases involving Buprenorphine this year.
According to Lyttle, it may seem like a good thing that the TBI is seeing less Heroin than in previous years, but it is actually a problem. He said this is because instead of seeing Heroin mixed with other substances such as fentanyl, like what the agency had been seeing before, what they are seeing now is fentanyl mixed with other substances or fentanyl on its own. The TBI says a projected 728 cases will involve Heroin this year.
The analog of fentanyl is making its way into the rankings, but Lyttle said the TBI’s crime labs have reported at least 25 different analogs, or flavors, of fentanyl since 2005. In a way, he said, analogs can be thought of somewhat like tinker toys, where one piece can be substituted for another, and the end product is different, but the basic structure is the same.
In addition to that variety causing complications for the TBI to investigate, Lyttle explained that it can be dangerous because people don’t really know what the analogs will do and some are far more potent than fentanyl. In 2023, the TBI projects there will be 824 flurofentanyl cases.
Lyttle said that while cocaine is not as common as it used to be, there has been a slight resurgence. The TBI expects cocaine to be the 5th most common drug this year, with a projected 1,832 cases.
The fourth most common drug is both a scheduled drug and a fentanyl manufacturing byproduct, Lyttle said. He explained that the reason it is being seen so frequently does not seem to be because people are using it, but the huge increase seems to be because it is along for the ride on fentanyl cases the TBI handles. It is anticipated that during 2023, the TBI is projecting it will see 2,588 cases involving 4ANPP.
Possibly one of the most recently discussed for how dangerous it can be came in at number three, as the TBI is projecting it will see 4,172 cases involving the drug this year. Fentanyl cases make up approximately 13.3% of cases that the TBI sees in reports, Lyttle says.
He added that the biggest problem with fentanyl is how many overdose deaths it’s linked to.
Lyttle says they are commonly seeing fentanyl is either on its own as a white powder or in pressed tablets that say M 30. He explained that this marking was originally used to denote oxycodone tabs. While Lyttle added that its unclear if the M 30 marking was intended to create counterfeit oxycodone pills, vert rarely are they seeing pills with the markings that are truly oxycodone.
2. Cannabis or Marijuana
The second drug on the list is marijuana, and Lyttle explained that in recent years, law enforcement agencies have become better at identifying marijuana compared to hemp. He showed statistics that said in 2020, in 15% of cases where a substance believed to be marijuana was sent to the TBI’s crime lab, it was actually hemp. That statistic dropped to only 5% of cases in 2023.
It can be difficult to tell the difference between the two substances as they look similar, however, the TBI’s website says it uses a three-step testing protocol to identify marijuana. This process involves looking at the substance through a microscope as well as two color tests, one of which tests for compounds exclusive to Canniabis staiva, and the second estimates the ratio of THC to CBD, the website says.
The reason for marijuana coming in second on the list is that in previous years when it was number one, Lyttle says, any green leafy substance would have been considered illegal and classified as marijuana. Now, it’s a bit more complicated, he said. The TBI projects there will be 6,156 cases involving marijuana in 2023.
Lyttle said, by far, the top drug on the list is methamphetamine. The TBI’s statistics show that in 32.2% of cases, methamphetamine is listed in reports involving drug cases. That number is down from 36% in 2020 and 2021.
Williams pointed out that around five or six years ago, it was found that there are not many meth labs in the area because much of what methamphetamine in the area came through Atlanta from Mexico. He said this is because it was much more cost-effective.
Lyttle added that in the crime lab, it’s clear to tell which methamphetamine was made in a home lab compared to what was imported. He said that home lab-made methamphetamine looks like dirt and has a low concentration of methamphetamine, while imported methamphetamine can come in “crystals sometimes as big as your fist.”
The TBI projects there will be 10,112 cases that involve Methamphetamine this year.
Drugs to watch: Nitazenes
Lyttle said the drugs to watch in 2023 are Nitazenes, which are synthetic opiates that are very powerful. The category includes 19 drugs, such as Metonitazene, Isonitazene, Pronitazene, N-pyrrolidino Etonitazene, Flunitazene, and Butonitazine, Lyttle said. These drugs have been associated with some overdose deaths in East Tennessee.
The TBI’s statistics showed that Nitazenes began showing up in cases around 2020, being in a tenth of a percent of cases involving drugs, but that number spiked in 2021 and 2021 reaching over 0.4% of case reports involving drugs. So far in 2023, the TBI says it only accounts for 0.15% of case reports involving drugs.
In addition to the TBI’s focus on charging those selling drugs and putting them behind bars, Williams said that the TBI is also partnering with treatment programs and nonprofits to form a coordinated approach. He added that unfortunately, they’ve noticed when an organization is taken down and the supply of drugs is eliminated, the customer’s addiction doesn’t go away. Rather, he said sometimes that can cause a spike in overdose deaths as those who are addicted to the drugs search for a new source and try substances that they aren’t accustomed to.
If you or a loved one is navigating a substance abuse addiction, resources are available both through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration as well as the Tennessee Department of Metal Health and Substance Abuse Services.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated.