Synthetic drug use a growing problem in Middle Tennessee

Prescription Pills Medication 1
(Photo: WKRN)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Synthetic drug use is a growing problem across Middle Tennessee, and the results have already been fatal.

Earlier this month, at least three people died when they took Percocet laced with a synthetic opiate.

These drugs change so fast it’s hard for police and even the scientists who analyze the drugs to keep up.

Street names like Rolex and Panda make the drugs sound harmless but they are two examples of new synthetic drugs that can be lethal.

“We recently heard about u-47700 and that is a type of drug that is analgesic, that is very potent,” said Brian Sullivan of Addiction Campuses, located in Brentwood, Tennessee.

Sullivan told News 2 as soon as drug experts find out about a new synthetic drug hitting the street; it’s so new that many times there aren’t laws against it despite any dangerous effects.

“You have these people who are well experienced at what they do, marketing these drugs to the public and there are no regulations,” he said.

Breaking down the chemical makeup of the drugs is up to Mike Lyttle, Assistant Director of the Forensic Services Division at the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

Lyttle took News 2 inside the crime lab where scientists break down synthetic drugs to the molecule.

“The synthetic drugs are forever changing so it’s been difficult for us to find verifiable standards,” said Lyttle. “So we are constantly working with drug manufacturers and supply companies to get standards of things.”

Whenever one of the instruments at the TBI crime lab discovers a compound it hasn’t seen before, they share that information with the manufacturer.

That way other labs using the same equipment have something to compare the formula to.

Johnny Williams (Courtesy: Tennessee Bureau of Investigation)
Johnny Williams (Courtesy: Tennessee Bureau of Investigation)

According to officials, one of the most concerning synthetic drugs on the streets right now is Fentanyl, an opiate 50 times more powerful than heroin and 100 times more powerful than morphine.

It’s also extremely dangerous.

“For example, you may buy an oxycodone tablet thinking its oxycodone but someone may have pressed that with fentanyl instead,” said Lyttle.

The TBI believes it was a similar situation that caused three deaths and more than a dozen overdoses in Murfreesboro earlier this month.

Agents arrested Johnny Williams, who is accused of selling fake Percocet pills laced with Fentanyl.

It is so powerful, that if absorbed through the skin, it can cause an overdose.

All TBI agents and lab workers kept the antidote, called Narcan, on hand.

The TBI reminds parents that synthetic marijuana is still popular and goes by names like K-2 and Spice.

The CDC reported that just this year alone more than 1,400 people called poison centers because of exposure to synthetic marijuana.

You can reach Addiction Campuses 24/7 at 1-888-614-2251.

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