The coronavirus pandemic has had the unexpected effect of reducing the availability of methamphetamine being brought into Greene and surrounding counties.
Authorities are now seeing an increase in the use of heroin, along with more overdoses, Sheriff Wesley Holt told members of the Greene County Anti-Drug Coalition on Thursday.
The “uptick” in heroin use is because meth, the drug of choice for many users, is becoming harder to obtain.
“We’ve seen a decline in the number of meth cases, and we are seeing an increase in heroin (use),” Holt said. “I guess COVID-19 is affecting the meth pipeline.”
Holt said after the coalition meeting that authorities are hearing about more heroin overdoses as a result, but overdose victims do not always go to a hospital emergency department because of the availability of naloxone.
Also known as Narcan, the drug is used to block or reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.
“We have had heroin overdoses but they have (used Narcan) to bring them back,” Holt said.
Naloxone has been used for years by Greene County-Greeneville EMS and is also standard equipment for law enforcement and other first responders. It is available to members of the public through the Greene County Health Department for individuals who complete training in administering it.
Agents of the 3rd Judicial District Drug Task Force that investigate illegal drug sales in Greene, Hawkins and Hancock counties are observing the same trend during the COVID-19 pandemic, DTF Director Craig Duncan said Thursday.
“Meth is out there, but it’s not like it was. It is not as plentiful. (Users) have to work to find it,” Duncan said.
High purity methamphetamine made in Mexico is smuggled into the United States and funneled through cities like Atlanta to rural areas like Greene County. Chemicals used to make meth come from China into Mexico, and the COVID-19 pandemic may have disrupted the international supply chain, Duncan said.
“The (chemicals) to make the meth are trickling into Mexico, instead of pouring into Mexico,” he said.
The end result is a reduced meth supply in places like Greene County, and individuals who may experiment with heroin.
“Anytime you have a shortage of something you fill it in with something else,” Duncan said. “We are seeing an uptick. I do expect when these (conditions) break up they will get back to the way they were.”
Some drug users are wary of heroin because it may contain other substances like fentanyl, a powerful synthetic narcotic 50 times more potent than morphine, and the cause of many overdoses in the U.S.
Heroin has never made major inroads into Greene County.
“People are afraid of it,” Duncan said. “We don’t want it around here.”
DTF investigations continue during the COVID-19 crises. Agents continue to do their jobs, Duncan said.
“We are taking as many precautions as we possibly can when we do drug investigations,” he said. “It’s kind of hard to social distance (but) we’re trying to be as cautious as possible.”