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Tennessee is known as "The Volunteer State," a moniker earned during the War of 1812 due to the prominent role played by volunteer Tennessee soldiers in the Battle of New Orleans. Tennesseans are known to be no-nonsense, upstanding people that take care of business, volunteering to handle what needs to get done. But when it comes to drug and alcohol addiction, The Volunteer State is fighting a battle few would choose to sign up for.
Drug and alcohol abuse is a national problem, and no state in the US has been spared. For Tennessee —which has always grappled with a large amount of poverty--the circumstances are particularly challenging. In 2018, 15.3% of Tennessee residents were living below the poverty line, and currently, Tennessee ranks in the top five US states in terms of substance abuse rates. In 2010, a whopping 11,717 Tennessee residents were admitted to substance abuse treatment programs.
Given Tennessee's poverty rate and high addiction statistics, it would be easy to think that being poor causes addiction. But, when we look at the relationship between addiction and poverty, we quickly realize that it's a bit more complicated.
Poorer people are statistically more likely to struggle with drug or alcohol abuse, but this doesn't necessarily mean that poverty causes addiction, per se. In fact in some cases, financial troubles are the direct result of a substance use disorder. Poverty does increase stress, and stress is well recognized as a factor for substance abuse and relapse. When you're struggling, there's a great temptation to turn to substances that make you feel good, like drugs and alcohol. Poverty also increases feelings of hopelessness and decreases self-esteem, which can leave some people more vulnerable to developing substance abuse disorders. But, addiction can cause people to slip into poverty too. Someone who is solidly middle class can fall into poverty if their addiction leads to poor work performance and job loss. It can also then be harder to get a new job, if someone has been fired from their old one. It's a vicious downward spiral.
Much like the rest of the United States, the scourge of opioid addiction has blown through Tennessee like a hurricane, laying waste to whole communities, and decimating families. In 2008, Tennessee led the nation in the number of residents over age 26 who abused prescription opioids, and opioid overdoses have become so widespread that the Tennessee General Assembly has permitted pharmacies to carry naloxone, (a medication used to lessen and reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.) Opioid addiction is a particularly menacing foe because it's a malady that can sneak up on people, even when they think they're being vigilant.
Prescription painkillers (like Oxycontin, Vicodin, and Percocet) are highly addictive, in large part because they activate the powerful reward centers in the human brain. These drugs trigger the release of endorphins, (your brain's feel-good neurotransmitters) which mask or interrupt your perception of pain and enhance feelings of pleasure and happiness, creating a short-lasting but extremely powerful sense of well-being. It's only human to love the feeling! And, when an opioid starts to wear off, it's in our very human nature to crave the return of that wonderful sense that everything is perfect and as it should be. This is the first step on the path toward addiction, and it can happen even to people who think they're being careful.
The root of the opioid problem stems from doctors over-prescribing these highly addictive drugs when, in many cases, Tylenol, Excedrin or Advil will do. These drugs may seem safe, especially when doctors prescribe them, but just one or two of few these prescription pain pills can get people hooked and send them off on a downward spiral into the throes of full-on dependency.
Unfortunately, prescription painkiller abuse can often send people down far darker paths. Opioids often lead to heroin addiction, (as heroin is cheaper than the pills, and usually far easier to obtain on the street.) The spiral downward doesn't stop there. When certain street drugs like heroin aren't available, drug abusers often then turn to incredibly powerful and dangerous synthetics like fentanyl, which sooner or later result in a body bag. In the United States, synthetic opioids, including fentanyl, are now the most common drugs involved in drug overdose deaths, responsible for 59% of all opioid-related decedents.
A recent study took a look at the substances most commonly abused by Tennessee youth, and the numbers are concerning:
4% of high school students report they've used cocaine 1 or more times in their lifetime.
4% of Tennessee youth (ages 12-17) reported using pain relievers in a way not directed by a doctor in the past year.
The good news for Tennessee residents struggling with drug and alcohol addiction is that help is only a few clicks away. The Volunteer State is awash in resources, whether you just need counseling, a broader more community-based approach, or full-on detox services. All it takes is the courage to take the first, terrifying step. Embrace the pain that got you here. Use it, own it, and move past it. Today is the first day of the rest of your life.
Tennessee State Facts
Tennessee Population: 5,681,723
Law Enforcement Officers in South Dakota: 15,469
Tennessee Prison Population: 38,900
Tennessee Probation Population: 40,889
Violent Crime Rate National Ranking: 5
2004 Federal Drug Seizures in Tennessee
Cocaine: 571.0 kgs.
Heroin: 64.1 kgs.
Methamphetamine: 70.4 kgs.
Marijuana: 2,034.3 kgs.
Ecstasy: 10,539 tablets
Methamphetamine Laboratories: 889 (DEA, state, and local)
Tennessee Drug Situation: Geographically, Tennessee is unique because it is bordered by eight other states. The interstate and state highway systems crisscross Tennessee's four major cities and traverse each of its borders. These highways carry a very large volume of traffic and are a primary means of moving drugs to and through Tennessee. As a result, the drug situations in the neighboring states have an impact on the drug situation in Tennessee. Tennessee is predominantly a "user" and a transshipment state, and not a major source area for any drug except domestically grown marijuana.
Cocaine in Tennessee: Cocaine is usually transported to Tennessee in multi-kilogram quantities from source cities in the western United States and from Texas, Illinois, Georgia, and California. Hamilton, Davidson, and Shelby counties are considered the distribution hubs for the state. Abusers of cocaine in Tennessee tend to consume the drug in crack form-a change from the preferred cocaine HCl abuse of a few years ago-making crack the current most popular drug of abuse among Tennessee residents. Tennessee has seen a significant increase in the trafficking activities of structured Mexican trafficking organizations. These structured groups respond to command and control elements in Atlanta, Los Angeles, Houston and Mexico.
Heroin in Tennessee: Heroin use in Tennessee is limited to a very small number of long-time users. The heroin trafficking situation has been very stable in the state for the past five years, though an increase in heroin availability was reported in Memphis recently. Also, despite attempts by traffickers from Philadelphia to reestablish a heroin distribution organization in eastern Tennessee, no great change in the demand for the drug is indicated by other factors in Tennessee. The sources of Mexican Black Tar and Southeast Asian heroin in Tennessee are Texas and New York, respectively.
Methamphetamine in Tennessee: The availability and demand for methamphetamine continues to increase throughout Tennessee. Much of the methamphetamine consumed in the state is transported from Mexico and the Southwest Border area. Clandestine methamphetamine labs can be found anywhere in Tennessee and are encountered almost daily by law enforcement. Tennessee accounts for 75 percent of the methamphetamine lab seizures in the Southeast. These facts are a stark contrast to the problem of a few years ago. The labs that are discovered in Tennessee are generally characterized as small and unsophisticated, and it is the product of these labs most often encountered and seized by law enforcement. These clandestine methamphetamine labs pose a significant threat because lab operators are frequently armed and are substantially involved in the drug's distribution. Southeast Tennessee has seen a significant increase in the activities of structured Mexican methamphetamine trafficking groups. These groups control much of the methamphetamine distribution in the Chattanooga area. Command and control for these Mexican organizations are frequently found in the Dalton, Ga. area. In addition, there is anticipation of an increase in methamphetamine use in Tennessee as the drug gains popularity over crack cocaine use.
Club Drugs in Tennessee: Tennessee has a growing “Club Drugs’ problem, with MDMA (ecstasy), LSD and GHB being the most common drugs of abuse. Rave Clubs, where these drugs are frequently sold, have been identified in the cities of Nashville and Knoxville.
Marijuana in Tennessee: Marijuana abuse and trafficking is a serious problem throughout the state and especially in rural areas. Tennessee is a major supplier of domestically grown marijuana. In fact, according to the Appalachia HIDTA Threat Assessment, Tennessee, along with West Virginia and Kentucky, produce the majority of the United States' supply of domestic marijuana. Prosecution of marijuana growers in the state has been extremely difficult due to an intelligence gap and because many of the domestic marijuana sites detected are so small that even if the owner/grower were identified, the U.S. Attorney would be reluctant to prosecute. There have also been seizures of Mexican marijuana in the state. Marijuana is favored over other drugs of abuse by some in certain areas of Tennessee.
Other Drugs in Tennessee: Distribution of Ecstasy (MDMA) and LSD, especially in and around the college campuses in Nashville and other areas, has been on the rise. These Club Drugs are abused primarily at "Rave" parties and are transported into the area from New York, Georgia, and Florida. Diverted pharmaceuticals also pose a problem in Tennessee. A special ARCOS report recently, which was prepared for the Tennessee Medical Board, showed that consumption of the following drugs was significantly above average in Tennessee: hydromorphone, hydrocodone, meperidine, and amphetamine. Dilaudid and morphine are also mentioned as heavily abused drugs in Tennessee.
DEA Mobile Enforcement Teams: This cooperative program with state and local law enforcement counterparts was conceived in 1995 in response to the overwhelming problem of drug-related violent crime in towns and cities across the nation. There have been 409 deployments completed resulting in 16,763 arrests of violent drug criminals as of February 2004. There have been two MET deployments in the State of Tennessee since the inception of the program: Chattanooga and Clarksville.
DEA Regional Enforcement Teams: This program was designed to augment existing DEA division resources by targeting drug organizations operating in the United States where there is a lack of sufficient local drug law enforcement. This Program was conceived in 1999 in response to the threat posed by drug trafficking organizations that have established networks of cells to conduct drug trafficking operations in smaller, non-traditional trafficking locations in the United States. Nationwide, there have been 22 deployments completed resulting in 608 arrests of drug trafficking criminals as of February 2004. There have been no RET deployments in the State of Tennessee.