The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) held a press conference on Monday morning to discuss the dangers of drug addiction and counterfeit medication in Tennessee.

TBI Director David Rausch said in the meeting, “Let me be clear, if you’re buying pills on the street, in our state, you’re gambling.”

Rausch showed examples of drugs like oxycodone, and compared them to counterfeit pills that have proved fatal to users. Most fake prescription pills contain fentanyl, a synthetic opioid. In 2017, fentanyl had attributed to 59 percent of drug overdose deaths. In 2019, Tennessee lost over 2,000 people to drug overdoses, and of those over 1,000 were fentanyl related.

Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Commissioner Marie Williams said, “Our state doesn’t just have a counterfeit pill problem, or an opioid problem, or a methamphetamine problem, we have an addiction problem. Just like every other state in this country.”

Williams also mentioned the Regional Overdose Prevention Specialist (ROPS) program that Tennessee offers. The program, which started in October 2017, has distributed more than 232,000 units of Naloxone. (Naloxone is an FDA-approved medication designed to reverse an opioid overdose.)

“They have saved more than 30 thousand lives,” Williams added. “As Commissioner [Lisa] Piercey said, ‘one pill can kill, but one intervention could actually save your life. One call could make a difference.”

Assistant Special Agent in charge for the DEA in Nashville, Tennessee,  Brett Prince said “four, out of every ten seized counterfeit pills, analyzed at DEA laboratories, contained a lethal dosing of fentanyl. Which is only two milligrams.”

Prince continued, that the counterfeit pills mimic the color, shapes, and marking of popular pharmaceutical drugs. He added this “can fool the user into believing they are from a regulated pharmacy in the United States.”

He said, “These counterfeit pills are produced in makeshift laboratories, primarily in Mexico, by violent drug traffickers, with ingredients and chemicals from China.”

Thomas Farmer, a special agent for the TBI, brought some of the new equipment that law enforcement has been using while working with the drugs. He explained that during a search warrant concerning two overdoses, a man opened a bag they suspected had fentanyl in it and he threw it at the officers.

Much of the equipment the TBI is using helps prevent law enforcement from inhaling the drug, which could lead to a possible overdose.

Each speaker urged those who are battling addiction with the drugs, or those who have friends or loved ones that are addicted to reach out to the multiple rehabilitation centers across the state.

– – –

Morgan Nicole Veysey is a reporter for The Tennessee Star and The Star News Network. Follow her on Twitter. Email tips to morgannicolewriting@gmail.com.