Comments Off on Authorities say investigation, arrests strike major blow in fight against meth

The Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office and federal authorities said Friday that a near two-year investigation into methamphetamine production across Bristol, Blountville and northeast Sullivan County has not only yielded 34 recent arrests and 18 seized labs, but also struck a major blow in local law enforcement’s ongoing fight against meth.

“This is an excellent example of cooperation between federal, county and local authorities,” Rob Bailess, an official with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s office in Johnson City, said Friday, during a news conference at the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office. “Hopefully, we’ve made an impact in getting out the message that we’re not going to stand for the distribution and creation of meth in Sullivan County.”

Sheriff Wayne Anderson echoed Bailess in hailing a significant step in the county’s battle against meth, but said more work was ahead in combating the drug’s use and production in both Sullivan County and Tennessee – a state that, Anderson noted, still ranks first in America for its number of meth labs.

“We’ve seen the aftermath,” Anderson said of meth’s continuing influence across Sullivan County and Tennessee. ‘It’s sad.”

During Friday’s news conference, authorities said the undercover meth-production investigation, which ran from July 2009 through this month and included 2nd Judicial Drug Task force members and Vice Unit personnel from both the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office and Bristol Tenn. Police Department, revealed an inter-connected ring of meth labs throughout northeast Sullivan County.

On May 5, authorities began arresting 34 suspects in connection with the meth manufacturing investigation, which Sullivan County Sheriff’s officials said started from tips and information provided by area residents and businesses. Currently, 23 of those arrested have been jailed on state charges in Tennessee and Virginia, and will face other federal charges. Another 11 arrested suspects have been jailed in Washington County, Tenn.’s, Jail until they appear in U.S. District Court in Greeneville.

“We are going to be looking at putting these people away for a long time,” Bayless said.

Officials at Friday’s news conference said children – including some infants – were observed living in at least 30 percent to 40 percent of the 18 meth labs that were seized, and that the youths were put under the care of area children’s agencies.

They said the investigation and arrests yielded little seized cash or property, because many of the arrested suspects were largely manufacturing the meth for their own use – and not for selling on a major scale.

Officials also said some animals were discovered in the seized meth labs, and that a small number were destroyed after their bodies were found to have traces of chemicals used in methamphetamine production.

During the news conference, Anderson openly called for the U.S. government to heavily restrict pseudoephedrine – an over-the-counter drug that’s commonly used as a cold medicine, but has become a major ingredient in meth.

Noting that there are nearly 140 available cold medications that don’t contain pseudoephedrine, Anderson said the U.S. should only make it available by prescription – or even consider banning it, as some countries have done.

“Pseudoephedrine is the cause of this whole problem,” Anderson said of the drug’s huge role in meth’s creation and use.

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