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Pandemic Snarls Meth Supply Chain

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.”

Schools Mark End Of Year With Parade

Tennessee Reaches Highest Ever Monthly Jobless Rate

MEMPHIS (AP) — Tennessee reached its highest monthly unemployment rate ever in April as the state managed public safety concerns raised by the new coronavirus outbreak by closing nonessential businesses, a move that has led to more than a half-million jobless claims.

The Tennessee Department of Labor & Workforce Development reported Thursday that the preliminary seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for April was 14.7%. That represents an “unprecedented spike” of 11.4 percentage points when compared to March’s revised rate of 3.3%, the department said in a news release.

Orders from Gov. Bill Lee and city and county officials led to closings of businesses throughout Tennessee as part of the mass response to the new coronavirus outbreak. Since March 15, the number of people who have lost their jobs and have been seeking or receiving payouts from the federal and state government in Tennessee has totaled more than 532,000, the department said.

The state’s highest seasonally adjusted rate had been 12.9%, which occurred in December 1982 and January 1983, the department said.

Total nonfarm employment in Tennessee decreased by 376,900 jobs between March and April. The largest reductions occurred in the leisure and hospitality, manufacturing, and professional and business services sectors, labor officials said.

More than 28,600 jobless Tennessee residents filed new claims for unemployment benefits during the week that ended Saturday. That number includes 872 new claims filed in the eight-county Northeast Tennessee region that includes Greene County.

More than $355 million in unemployment benefits was paid out last week, with more than $295 million of that total coming in the form of federal funds distributed under the federal CARES Act, the emergency assistance package created to deal with financial effects from the virus response.

The rest of the money came from a trust fund used by the state to pay unemployment benefits, the labor department said. New claims filed last week dipped slightly from the week before, when more than 29,300 were filed.

The process of filing for and receiving unemployment payouts has frustrated jobless Tennessee residents who’ve complained about waiting more than a month to receive benefits. Problems include employers who were slow to respond to claims, confusion about who can receive funds, trouble with the state’s unemployment website, and an inability to get a claims agent on the phone in a timely manner.

Labor Commissioner Jeff McCord said the state has whittled its unemployment claim backlog from 50,000 to 22,000 over the past week. While most of those claims were filed in April, McCord acknowledged, some were filed in March.

“We’re been over our heads working hard to get this out,” McCord said during a news briefing. “We have six claims teams, made up of 18 people, working from the oldest claim first.”

Tennessee cities have begun a gradual process of reopening businesses, including places for musicians to perform in the country music capital of Nashville.

Mayor John Cooper announced Thursday that the city will move to the second phase of its reopening plan starting next week. This means restaurants and retail stores will be allowed to open at 75% capacity on Monday. Salons, barbershops, gyms and other close-contact businesses can reopen at half-capacity, Cooper said.

Live music will also be allowed at restaurants, but only if there are no more than two performers on the stage and they remain at least 6 feet apart. However, bars and dance floors will remain closed.

“Nashville can have a bit of a graduation and move on to phase two of the road map for reopening,” Cooper said during a media briefing.

Lee has already lifted similar restrictions for most of the state. Most recently the state issued new guidance that would allow large, non-contact attractions — such as concert venues, water parks, zoos and large museums — to reopen under warnings to protect employees and customers to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Tennessee has reported 18,961 cases of COVID-19 and 313 deaths. In Greene County, the number of confirmed cases remains at 46, according to the state Health Department. Two of those cases resulted in deaths.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up within weeks. For some, especially older adults and those with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness and be life-threatening.