Tennessee agencies warn of "alarming rise" in fentanyl and newest worry carfentanil

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI), Tennessee Highway Patrol (THP), and Tennessee Department of Health (TDH) issued a joint statement on the "alarming rise" of fentanyl and heroin entering Tennessee. PHOTO: WZTV FOX 17 Nashville

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, Tennessee Highway Patrol, and Tennessee Department of Health issued a joint statement Thursday on the "alarming rise" of fentanyl and heroin entering Tennessee.

TBI Director Mark Gwyn noted the sharp increase in heroin and fentanyl submissions to the TBI lab for testing, each marking five year highs. More troubling are the submissions of carfentanil for testing. Whereas fentanyl is 50-100 times stronger than morphine, carfentanil is 100 times stronger than fentanyl.

"If it sounds like we are sounding the alarm, we are," Gwyn said.

Gwyn says in the last few weeks alone, the TBI lab has received ten exhibits of carfentanil for testing. Last year, there were zero requests for testing.

The TBI says fentanyl is being used by criminals to create counterfeit versions of well-known opioid and benzodiazepine pills such as Percocet, Xanax, Oxycodone and others. Fentanyl is also being mixed with other drugs such as heroin or marijuana and, in some cases, criminals are even counterfeiting illegal heroin with fentanyl and fentanyl derivatives.

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THP Colonel Tracy Trott says the THP has so far seized over 20 pounds of fentanyl being transported into the state. Trott says those numbers are significant when you consider "two to three grains can kill you."

As a result, the THP has decided troopers will no longer conduct field testing and instead send evidence to the TBI lab for handling. Trott also recalled an event where a first responder had been exposed to fentanly and needed two doses of narcan, a narcotic overdose drug, in order to "bring him back to life."

John Dreyzehner, Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Health also issued warnings of the dangerous rise in fentanyl, heroin, and carfentanil use.

"What I want people to know is this; This is a new level of risk," Dreyzehner said. "These drugs are so potent that even a small part of a pill taken is a potentially lethal dose."

He said the drugs were being made overseas and imported into the country, but he believed pharmaceutical companies also bear responsibility.

"There's no question pharma bears responsibility for the situation we find ourselves in," Dreyzehner said.

Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services Commissioner Marie Williams issued a phone number where those affected by drug abuse can receive treatment resources.

Williams says residents can call 1-800-889-9789. Currently, the department is receiving $13.8 million in federal funds and $6 million in state funds to use towards treatment resources.

If you or a loved one needs help for substance abuse, call the Tennessee REDLINE at 1-800-889-9789.

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