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Meth Overtakes Marijuana in Lab Submissions, and TBI Says that Points to Troubling Trend

For the first time, methamphetamine has overtaken marijuana as the drug most-often submitted for testing to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation's crime laboratories — an increase officials say is, oddly enough, an outgrowth of the state's ongoing opioid epidemic.

TBI's crime labs in Knoxville, Nashville and Memphis collectively received 9,795 marijuana submissions in 2019. Historically, TBI analyses approximately 10,000 submissions identified as pot each year.

Comparatively, TBI received 12,072 submissions of methamphetamine last year, marking a sharp increase from 3,748 submissions in 2015.

The rapid rise in methamphetamine comes amid a drop in the number of meth labs uncovered over the past decade, which indicates an influx of imported meth, according to TBI.

Related: TBI clarifies marijuana testing policies to law enforcement as drug test requests spike above last year's total

TBI Director David Rausch said the growing use of meth actually is a consequence of opioid abuse.

"Drug abusers often flow from depressants to stimulants and back again," Rausch said in a written statement Monday. "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. 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."

Amid this evolving addiction crisis, Marie Williams, LCSW, Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse services commissioner, stressed that addiction treatment is effective.

"People do recover," William 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."

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