TRI-CITIES, TN (WJHL) – A dangerous drug that kills people in the Tri-Cities region is also difficult to combat by law enforcement.
Fentanyl is a powerful drug used legally to treat extreme pain, but is now being manufactured and sold on the illegal drug market. The illicit versions of fentanyl are up to 10,000 times more powerful than morphine and lethal in very small doses. The Tennessee Department of Health issued a health notice about fentanyl earlier this year.
Dr. Clay Renfro lost his only son, Frederick Renfro, to an overdose of fentanyl. "We knew there was a problem for several years, but getting him to accept that he had a problem was the big problem." Dr. Renfro said that his son suffered from depression and kidney stones for most of his life and that he had to take medication that eventually led to the addiction.
According to the Tennessee Department of Health, since 2015-2016 the voluntary state experienced a 74 percent increase in deaths from drug overdoses related to fentanyl. In 2015, 169 Tennessee residents died of fentanyl, while 294 people died in 2016. The Virginia Department of Health reported a 176 percent increase in fatal fentanyl overdoses during that same time period. Reports show that 225 Virginians died in 2015 and 622 died in 2016.
"When it comes to something so powerful in very microscopic quantities, it's uncontrollable," said the special agent of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation in charge of Tommy. Farmer He also said it is difficult for law enforcement to control the problem because fentanyl is produced abroad in China and Mexico and then sent to the United States, often undetected.
"It's much easier to identify tons of drugs entering or kilos of drugs entering instead of grams entering," said Farmer, who also heads the Tennessee Dangerous Drugs Task Force. He said that the grams of fentanyl could be exposed to tens and hundreds of thousands of people. Farmer also said that drug dealers always seek to circumvent the law. "[Drug dealers try to] changes the formula of the badog so that it does not fall into our controlled substances and can be sent to our country without being detected, or we may not even know what it is and it will take us a while to discover what it is before we can act accordingly "
Dr. Renfro's son used the dark network to buy a lethal dose of fentanyl from China. Investigators said he had died within hours of receiving the package and taking fentanyl.
"We have to put an end to these packages that are coming in and that contain this potion that is killing our people," said Deputy Attorney General Gene Perrin. with the Sullivan County District Attorney's Office
Perrin works on narcotics cases on a daily basis and said that so far this year he identified seven deaths from overdoses related to fentanyl in Sullivan County.
"When the agents find the package and it is clear from China, they can not do anything, apart from that we can share that information with the postal inspector or share that information with the Drug Enforcement Agency," said Perrin . But he said they are also being aggressive. "When there is a drug overdose, especially a death from drug overdose, we are trying to work and identify the source of the drug so that we can return after the person who is benefiting from it."
Perrin said his office is currently prosecuting several cases that are directly related to a drug overdose involving fentanyl. Earlier this month, a TBI investigation led to the formal indictment of a Kingsport man on several charges related to the distribution of fentanyl. The Drug Task Force of the 24th Judicial District confiscated 10 kilograms of fentanyl during a traffic stop in Decatur County. It was one of the largest busts in the history of Tennessee. The officers also seized Carfentanil, the most powerful relative of fentanyl, in central Tennessee.
But Perrin said more must be done to make a dent in the illegal market. "In the best of cases we are stepping on water," he said. "The first and most important thing is to reduce the prescription of opioids because that sets the basis, over-prescribing created this problem and that is something that needs to be addressed." Perrin said he will also bring them together.
The Sullivan County District Attorney's Office is also working with the Sullivan County Sheriff's Office and Bristol and Kingsport police departments to create a death task force for drug overdose.
"Many times on the front we do not know why the person died, so we are trying to provide resources to the detectives through our narcotics officers and the drug task force so that we can be out there. execute names, use telephones, all the research things we need to try to solve it, "Perrin described. He also said that the first responders will be trained to recognize the importance of contacting the police so they can get involved in suspected cases of drug overdoses.
The Task Force Dangerous Drugs also helps law enforcement fight the epidemic of opioid abuse. It provides equipment, training and support to help local departments address the problem in their communities and clean up drug labs. TBI SAC Farmer said that prevention is also key. "We have to prevent on the back-end or it will continue happening again and again, that goes after the children affected by that community or that family, the children in danger of drugs and changing the culture, the way we see the drugs, the way we see pain, the way we receive our information about these things. " He said.
If you suffer from substance abuse and need immediate help, call Tennessee Redline at 1800-889-9789.
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