On Thursday for example, the HCSO released a report on meth trafficking arrests which took place Dec. 3 involving a couple near Church Hill who were allegedly found in possession of 29.6 grams of meth.
Sgt. Same Wilhoit reportedly responded to a 911 hangup call at 138 Smith Hollow Road, and when he arrived he observed people inside the house run and turn off the lights.
Deputies eventually located Christopher Lee Berry, 25, of that address, hiding in the attic; and Christian Sierra Holbrook, 237 Belmont Avenue, Mount Carmel, hiding under Berry's bed.
A HCSO search of the residence allegedly resulted in 29.6 grams of meth being located under the mattress where Holbrook was found hiding.
Detective Zachary England stated in his report that Berry and Holbrook both admitted to selling substantial amounts of meth from that residence for an extended period of time.
Both were charged with possession of meth with intent to deliver and maintaining a dwelling where narcotics are housed or sold.
Earlier this year Holbrook was sentenced to 80 days in the Hawkins County Jail a result of a child neglect charge that was filed in April of 2018 after uncapped syringes were found throughout the Mount Carmel residence she shared with her seven week old baby.
Holbrook was also wanted by the HCSO on a probation violation warrant stemming form that conviction. Berry, who has pending charges of theft and possession of drug paraphernalia from a July arrest, was wanted for failure to appear.
This second meth epidemic is worse
It's been about a decade since the last major meth epidemic when small meth lab busts were commonplace. By placing restrictions on the purchase of ephedrine and other necessary ingredients, state and federal authorities basically put local meth manufacturers out of business.
For a while meth use was on a decline in the area, replaced by synthetic drugs and opioids.
By the time the government had cracked down on synthetic drugs an opioids, however, a new major meth epidemic has taken their place.
Hawkins Sheriff Ronnie Lawson told the Times News Thursday this latest meth epidemic is the worse now than it was the first time around, thanks to huge shipments of meth flowing into this country from Mexico.
“We're getting 100 kilos (220 pounds) a week”
“The first time the meth epidemic came around we were getting two or three meth labs a day,” Lawson said. “Now with so much meth coming in, just from the sources we know of, we're getting 100 kilos (220 pounds) a week coming into upper east Tennessee and Southwest Virginia. This meth epidemic has taken over the opioids 10-fold. A massive volume of meth is coming through East Tennessee from Mexico, and we've learned that Atlanta is the main hub for meth trafficking on the East Coast. The main reason meth has overtaken opioids is there is so much of it. The price has gone down, and the demand has gone up.”
Lawson added, “About three years ago when our Narcotics Unit would buy meth off somebody it would be like $1,500. Now they're paying half of that, or less for an ounce. The meth coming in from Mexico is also more potent than the home made stuff. A lot of the stuff we're getting now is almost pure.”
Lawson is working on compiling statistics for meth arrests, and although those numbers weren't available Thursday he can say without a doubt the meth problem in Hawkins County, and across the region, is at an all time high.
More cases than they have time to prosecute
“One problem we're running into, we're running a lot of our cases through federal court, and we're overwhelming the federal court and U.S. Attorney's Office,” Lawson said. “They're running short of of manpower. My office alone has run well over 100 people through federal court. If that's just one agency, image what Upper East Tennessee is doing to Greeneville (federal court). They're just absolutely overwhelmed with cases. They're getting so many they can't prosecute them. It just takes time, and we understand that.”
What's the solution?
“We've got to stop it from coming into the United States for one thing,” Lawson said. “We need to tighten up our border. The biggest problem is there's a demand for it. The sad part is there is so many people addicted to it. We won't be able to stop it until we end the demand.”