In the early 1990s, T.J. Jordan was an agent with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation during a spike in the manufacture and distribution of methamphetamine.
He recalls one investigation that led him to a small farmhouse in the southern part of the state.
“At three o’clock in the morning, it looked like Grand Central Station,” Jordan said. “We went there that morning looking for guns, drugs and a body. We found all three.”
Now serving as the assistant director for the TBI’s Drug Investigation Division, Jordan was there for the start of the state’s meth problem.
“Initially, what we would see is a lab in the kitchen of your house, the bathroom, the barn, the outbuilding, you know whatever,” Jordan said. “You could make it, although it was very volatile and dangerous.”
That led to the popularity of the one-pot meth, which is essentially a plastic bottle filled with chemicals used to produce meth.
“That became that much more dangerous for the chance of explosion,” Jordan said.
In 2010, Tennessee had more meth labs dismantled than any other state in the country. The Tennessee Dangerous Drugs Task Force reports the peak was in February 2013 when 213 meth labs were dismantled.
At the time, labs were reported at a rate of seven per day. That is currently about one per day.
Even with the number of labs down significantly though, meth is still seen widely across the state.
“The people in this country unfortunately have an appetite for illicit drugs,” Jordan said. “The Mexican cartel and drug trafficking organizations know that, and are filling the void for us.”
They are filling the void, Jordan said with super-strength crystal meth produced in super labs in Mexico. That high-grade meth is transported from Mexico through Texas into Atlanta and then to Tennessee.
About a decade ago, reports indicated the average gram of meth was about 39 percent pure. It is currently close to 100 percent.
“Why not take the path of least resistance and get the imported meth which is more accessible, coming over in tons across the border?” Jordan said. “What people are getting is accessible, cheap, you avoid detection, don’t have to worry about the dangers and the volatility of the labs.”
As the way that meth invades the state continues to change, the TBI warns the battle is far from over.