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Meth Now Most-Submitted Drug At TBI Labs

For the first time since TBI crime laboratories started keeping detailed statistics, methamphetamine surpassed marijuana as the most-submitted drug in the state in 2019.

“Drug addiction continues to be a major issue in Tennessee, and I believe this sharp increase in methamphetamine has a connection to our state’s ongoing opioid epidemic,” TBI Director David Rausch said in a news release.

“Drug abusers often flow from depressants to stimulants and back again. As more people struggle with opioid addiction many of them will – with time – seek out stimulants like methamphetamine. Unfortunately, those who run drug operations, often based outside the United States, know there’s an increased demand here, Rausch said. “Alongside our local, state, and federal partners, we’ll keep doing what we can to dismantle these operations, but we’d also urge anyone struggling with drug problems to get help before addiction costs you your life.”

TBI’s crime laboratories in Knoxville, Memphis and Nashville received a total of 9,795 submissions of marijuana in 2019, compared to 10,652 in 2018. Historically, the TBI analyzes approximately 10,000 submissions identified as marijuana every year.

Comparatively, methamphetamine has continued to trend significantly upward in recent years, increasing from 3,748 submissions in 2015 to 12,072 in 2019.

“That has occurred, however, at the same time the state has seen a sharp decline in the number of meth labs over the past decade, indicating an influx in imported methamphetamine,” the release said.

The meth crisis in Greene County has been an acknowledged problem for several years.

Atlanta is a major distribution point for northeast Tennessee. Other meth is distributed through South Carolina and North Carolina.

“All of these trace back to a Mexican drug trafficking organization, a cartel. All the meth coming into the area is pretty much through the same avenue,” Scott Stewart, assistant director of the 3rd Judicial District Drug Task Force that includes Greene County, said in a 2019 interview.

The opioid addiction epidemic has received much of the publicity, but methamphetamine is far less expensive than narcotic pills and other opioids and often more readily available, Stewart said.

Kenneth Bailey Jr., Greene County General Sessions and Juvenile Court judge, has seen the number of defendants charged with methamphetamine sales or possession steadily increase.

Bailey said that law enforcement officers, local prosecutors and federal authorities “are utilizing all available options to try and fight the meth epidemic.”

The drug trade “continues to evolve,” Tommy Farmer, TBI Special Agent-in-Charge of the Tennessee Dangerous Drugs Task Force, said in the news release.

“Though we’ve seen an increase, recently, in stimulants in our state’s illicit drug supply, I’m encouraged we’ve made progress in addressing other illicit drugs, like opioids. This data, however, proves we have more work to do. We will continue to do what it takes to address this problem from the law enforcement side and stand prepared to help law enforcement agencies across the state in this collective fight.”

Bailey and others familiar with the local impact of meth use have advocated more treatment options for users of the highly addictive drug.

Marie Williams, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, agreed in the news release.

“While our state’s addiction crisis continues to evolve, it’s important to remember that treatment for substance use disorder is effective, and people do recover,” Williams said. “We want to encourage everyone, whether you’re living with an addiction or you love someone who’s struggling, there is hope for a new life in recovery.”

Both state agencies encourage those struggling with substance abuse issues to take advantage of free and confidential resources available through the Tennessee REDLINE.

More information can be found online at https://www.tn.gov/behavioral-health/news/2019/7/10/tn-redline-adds-new-text-communication-capability.html or by calling or texting 1-800-889-9789.


Local_news
Enjoying A Fresh Drink On A Warm January Afternoon

Local_news
County School Board, Municipal Elections To Be On August Ballot

Although there will be only one local office on the ballot for the March presidential preference primary, the August ballot will include county school board candidates and elections in three municipalities.

The county primary for the assessor of property position will be on the ballot March 3. Only one candidate has qualified to appear on that ballot, incumbent Chuck Jeffers, who will appear in the Republican primary.

In the county general election Aug. 6, he will be joined on the ballot by candidates for the Greene County Board of Education in the 2nd and 7th school board districts. Currently, Tommy Cobble serves on the school board from the 2nd District. School Board Chairman Rick Tipton represents the 7th district.

Coinciding with the August county general election will be municipal elections in Baileyton, Greeneville and Mosheim.

The first day that the Election Commission will issue petitions to qualify to run as a candidate in either the school board or municipal election races is Feb. 3. The qualifying deadline is April 2.

On Jan. 7, the Greene County Election Commission approved a call for the three municipal elections in August. The call is a formal step in the requirements to hold the municipal elections. A similar call will be considered later this year for the Tusculum municipal election in November, which will coincide with the presidential, federal and state elections.

Five offices will be determined in the Greeneville municipal election, according to the Election Commission. On the ballot will be the mayor, an at-large position, and two aldermen and two school board members from the 2nd Ward. Incumbents include Mayor W.T. Daniels and 2nd Ward Aldermen Scott Bullington and Jeff Taylor. Jerry Anderson and Cindy Luttrell are currently representing the 2nd Ward on the Greeneville Board of Education.

Four offices will be chosen in the Baileyton election — mayor, two full-term aldermen and an alderman to fill an unexpired term, according to the Election Commission. The incumbents are Mayor Tommy Casteel and aldermen Kenneth Bailey and David Shell.

Michael Starnes is currently serving in the alderman seat for which a candidate to fill his unexpired term will be sought in the election. By the time of the election, it is expected that Starnes will have moved his residence from the area he represents, according to the Election Commission.

In Mosheim, three offices will be on the ballot — the mayor, a 1st Ward alderman and 2nd Ward alderman. Filling those offices currently are Mayor Tommy Gregg, 1st Ward Alderman Dave Long and Second Ward Alderman James Foshie.


Local_news
Ballad Health Lawsuit Appeal Filed

An appeal has been filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals in a lawsuit alleging a conflict of interest between the governing boards of Ballad Health and East Tennessee Physicians and Associates that was dismissed in December 2019 a federal judge.

The appeal with the U.S. Court of Appeals Sixth Circuit in Cincinnati that covers Tennessee was filed Friday by Greeneville lawyer Francis X. Santore Jr. on behalf of 10 plaintiffs, all residents of Sullivan and Washington counties. The lawsuit dismissed last month claims that a conflict of interest between the governing boards could be detrimental to health care market competition.

Two motions to dismiss were granted Dec. 10 by Senior U.S. District Judge Curtis J. Collier “for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction,” a judgment order said.

Santore declined in an email to elaborate on the reasoning behind the appeal, but issued a statement.

“We will continue to have no comment about this case, even though freed from the restraints of the Local Rules of the Eastern District,” Santore wrote, “except for the following comment:

“The late Hall of Fame (baseball) catcher, Yogi Berra, once famously said, ‘It ain’t over ’til it’s over.’

“The fight that these brave clients of mine, who are standing alone against the largest medical monopoly in the United States, an octopus that has shut down hospitals and clinics, raised prices for necessary medical services, sued poor people for money when they have naught but a spoonful of gruel in their bowl, and, most shockingly, paid off local and state leaders — some of whom now seek to run for Congress — to do its bidding, is not over … by a long shot,” Santore wrote.

“We will continue to utilize all legal means necessary through our courts, and pray for redress therein,” Santore concluded.

Ballad Health denies the allegations raised in the lawsuit and stands by a brief statement issued in December after Collier’s dismissal of the civil action.

“We are pleased the court agreed with our argument and dismissed this lawsuit,” it said.

FILED IN APRIL 2019

The antitrust lawsuit was filed in April 2019 in federal court by Santore. It claims the current makeup of the boards amounts to “interlocking directorates” with clear conflicts of interest, and asked the court to change the makeup of the Ballad Health Board of Directors.

Lawsuit defendants include Greeneville businessman and philanthropist Scott Niswonger, along with and other members of the Ballad Health board: East Tennessee State University President Brian Noland, Barbara Allen, Julie Bennett, David Golden, David Lester, Alan Levine, David May, Gary Peacock, Doug Springer and Keith Wilson.

Niswonger and Golden also serve on the ETSU Board of Trustees.

The Medical Education Assistance Corporation, doing business as East Tennessee Physicians and Associates and University Physicians Practice Group, is also a defendant.

East Tennessee Physicians is described in the lawsuit as “a captive corporate unit of East Tennessee State University.”

Ballad Health filed the motion to dismiss in June. In his judgment, Collier wrote that the lawsuit fashioned by Santore didn’t establish what is known as Article III standing, or the absolute minimum of merits of a case by a plaintiff showing it invokes the authority of the federal courts.

Collier wrote that plaintiffs “have not alleged any facts to demonstrate a concrete, particularized injury” caused by what Santore termed an “improper and unlawful interlocking directorate.”

“Even construing the evidence in the light most favorable to (the plaintiffs), there are not factual allegations demonstrating an ‘injury in fact’” required as one element of Article III, Collier wrote.

In an amended complaint filed by Santore in the case, Collier wrote that plaintiffs still failed to outline specific harm caused by the defendants.

“(The) plaintiffs cannot simply state a harm occurred in order to establish injury in fact; they must provide some factual allegations to demonstrate the harm is specific to them,” Collier wrote.

The amended complaint “cannot survive a motion to dismiss,” he wrote.

MOTION TO DISMISS

In a statement issued in June 2019 by Ballad Health, the hospital system said its board of directors “acted with total integrity at all times.”

In its motion to dismiss reviewed by Collier, Ballad Health cites legal grounds on several points in asking the court to dismiss the case. The motion states that plaintiffs “lack standing to bring their claims in federal court and plaintiffs fail to state claims upon which relief may be granted.”

Plaintiffs “have failed to allege a case or controversy,” the motion states. The U.S. Constitution requires dismissal of the complaint under a rule governing “lack of subject matter jurisdiction,” it states.

The motion also states the lawsuit should be dismissed “for failing to state a claim for which relief can be granted because plaintiffs have failed to allege antitrust injury and failed to plead the requisite elements of (one section) of the Clayton Act.”

The Clayton Antitrust Act was adopted in 1914 to regulate U.S. business practices. The legislation prohibits anti-competitive mergers, predatory and discriminatory pricing, and other types of unethical corporate behavior.

Ballad Health has immunity under the federal antitrust laws, according to the motion to dismiss.

Santore responded that Ballad Health had no immunity and couldn’t rely on the contention for dismissal of the lawsuit.

In his response to Ballad Health’s June 2019 motion to dismiss, Santore wrote that plaintiffs “have more than adequately plead the requisites of the Clayton Act” showing that Ballad Health’s motion “is not well-taken.”