Drug Investigation Division
Special agents assigned to TBI's Drug Investigation Division work alongside local, state, and federal law enforcement partners, such as the Drug Enforcement Administration, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Tennessee’s United States Attorney’s offices. In addition, TBI Agents participate in a variety of collaborative efforts to address the drug issues in communities across Tennessee.
Safeguarding Lives: The TBI Drug Investigation Division’s Strategy to Combat Overdose Deaths
TBI takes proactive steps to address the opioid crisis and save lives through these innovative measures. By adopting these strategies, TBI hopes to align our efforts with public health initiatives, support Tennessee communities affected by the opioid crisis, and mitigate overdose deaths.
TBI collaborates with the Departments of Health, Mental Health, Children Services, Education, a number of healthcare providers, community organizations, and addiction treatment providers to facilitate the exchange of crucial information. This collaboration helps identify upcoming drug trends and high drug trafficking areas and ensures appropriate support and treatment are provided to those struggling with substance abuse.
TBI’s Dangerous Drugs Task Force provides programs and presentations to community groups, professional organizations, and others to ensure the challenges facing Tennessee regarding drugs and drug-endangered children are fully understood by those not working in law enforcement. TBI utilizes these opportunities to build bridges between citizens and law enforcement as well as promote the benefits of community anti-drug coalitions, partnerships among enforcement, treatment, and prevention workers, and what citizens can do to make a difference in their communities.
TBI plays a role in facilitating access to treatment and recovery resources. This can involve providing information on local treatment centers, supporting community-based initiatives, and connecting individuals struggling with substance abuse to appropriate support services. By encouraging and supporting recovery, TBI contributes to reducing overdose deaths in the long term. A number of referrals are made monthly in the hopes of just saving one life and getting the person on the road to recovery.
This is just one example of how these programs have helped one referral in his own words:
“It’s all a little overwhelming. I’m not used to people really caring about me, whether I make it or not. I can’t believe the number of people who have gone out of their way, above and beyond, to make sure that I’ve got a real chance this time. I’ve only been out of jail, less than a week, and I’ve got a roof over my head, a good job I enjoy, a new circle of friends, and people checking on me just to see how I’m doing. I’m not used to accepting help from other people, but I’ve been given clothes, food, a phone, help with transportation - really just about anything a man could ask for or think of to get back on his feet. I don’t know how to thank everyone that has played a part in all of this! I didn’t even know this kind of help existed. A man really has no excuse for at least giving recovery an honest chance. I’m overwhelmed, but I’ve got hope, which is something I was all out of before all of this. I’m blessed.”
- Client #296-2023
TBI special agents utilize advanced data analysis techniques to identify areas with high overdose rates, patterns of drug-related crimes, and emerging drug threats. By understanding these trends, TBI can allocate resources effectively, deploy prevention efforts, and take proactive measures to mitigate overdose deaths.
TBI’s Dangerous Drug Task Force has implemented comprehensive training programs that equip officers with the knowledge and skills necessary to respond to drug-related incidents effectively. Throughout 2022, the Tennessee Dangerous Drugs Task Force (TDDTF) provided 4,710 participants with training and education in 97 sessions conducted in person and online. These schools and presentations covered all aspects of the TDDTF programs and included a significant number of community outreach events providing information on previous, current, and emerging drug trends and threats. The drivers/responders assisted the task force, and they received 103 days (745.5 hours) of training, including assisting with drug-related death investigations courses, clandestine lab certification schools, and recertification training sessions around the state.
TBI special agents routinely conduct focused operations to disrupt the supply chain of illicit drugs. This involves collaborative partnerships with local and federal partners that focus on targeted investigations, surveillance, and dismantling of drug trafficking organizations involved in the distribution of dangerous substances. By removing these threats, TBI and our LE partners have reduced the availability and accessibility of lethal drugs on the streets. These targeted investigations are often kept quiet due to their sensitive nature and the continuous effort to identify sources of supply.
However, one investigation ongoing since December 2022 has been talked about frequently in news outlets in and outside of Tennessee. The 313 Initiative is a concerted and organized effort by numerous local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies to identify, target, and dismantle individuals and groups from the Detroit area who are bringing deadly drug combinations into Knox County and surrounding areas. To date, 188 people have been arrested, and law enforcement has seized 62 pounds of methamphetamine, over 38 pounds of fentanyl, nearly $500,000.00 in cash, and taken 116 guns off the street.
Tennessee Code Annotated §38-6-202 states the mission of the DID is to “investigate, gather evidence and assist in the prosecution of criminal offenses involving controlled substances, narcotics, and other drugs,” and that to fulfill this mission the Division “shall have original jurisdiction over the investigation of all drugs.”
The DID, like the TBI as a whole, plays many roles in the law enforcement community. TBI Special Agents assigned to the Division initiate and investigate their own cases, targeting significant violators, drug distribution organizations, and mid to high-level offenders. In addition, the Division’s agents provide support to the drug enforcement community, including technical assistance, legal assistance, and personnel support to other agencies from the local to the federal level. Finally, recognizing that effective utilization of law enforcement resources requires cooperation, the DID strives to maintain the Bureau’s close relationship with the various police departments, sheriff’s offices, and judicial district drug task forces throughout the state. The Division continues to emphasize strengthening ties between its investigative efforts and those of federal agencies with drug enforcement responsibilities, including the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Homeland Security Investigations, and Tennessee’s U.S. Attorney’s offices.
The Division’s commitment to the TBI’s leadership in the Tennessee law enforcement community is evidenced by its ongoing efforts to stay at the forefront of investigative and policy trends, including ongoing efforts to combat clandestine methamphetamine manufacturing and trafficking through enforcement and policy initiatives. The commitment is also evident in the progress in the Division’s effort to address the illegal diversion of prescription drugs such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, and benzodiazepines, battling the current state and national opioid crisis, and ensuring that traditional drug enforcement programs like the Appalachia High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (AHIDTA) and the Governor’s Task Force on Marijuana Eradication (GTFME) stay current and viable.
The DID is headed by an Assistant Director who reports to the TBI Director and Deputy Director. Four regional Special Agents in Charge (SAC) report to the Assistant Director and are stationed in the four regional offices in Knoxville, Chattanooga, Nashville, and Memphis, and one SAC is assigned to Special Projects. Reporting to each regional Special Agent in Charge are two Assistant Special Agents in Charge in the west and upper east regions, and three ASACs in the middle and east regions, who are the frontline supervisors of the Special Agents assigned to the respective regions. The Division also consists of two Intelligence Analysts, one who provides investigative support across the state to Special Agents, the other provides support to the Tennessee Dangerous Drugs Task Force (TDDTF), and a Criminal Justice Information Specialist who maintains the statewide Drug Offender Registry.
The DID had 822 active cases as of June 30, 2022. The Division opened approximately 312 cases and closed 331 cases during the fiscal year. From July 1, 2021, to June 30, 2022, Special Agents assigned to the Drug Investigation Division arrested a total of 814 drug offenders and obtained 381 convictions on drug-related charges. Agents of the Division seized or purchased 1,380.28 grams of crack cocaine; 61,860.11 grams of powder cocaine; 4,140.78 pounds of bulk marijuana; 535 marijuana plants; and 318,026.79 grams of methamphetamine and 1 methamphetamine lab. Also seized were 1,316.0 dosage units and 72 grams of Ecstasy, 55,703.04 dosage units and 35,665.44 grams of Fentanyl, 10,255.94 grams of Heroin and 4,266.15 grams and 140 dosage units of Heroin laced with Fentanyl, 531 dosage units of LSD, 43 dosage units and 1,228.1 grams of MDMA, 472.78 grams of mushrooms, 19,121.7 dosage units and 8,051.4 grams of prescription drugs, and 89.2 grams and 117.5 dosage units of other drugs.
TBI’s share of currency seized totaled approximately $179,639.61 all of which constituted either proceeds of drug trafficking or funds used to facilitate drug trafficking.
As of June 30, 2022, there are 54 DID Special Agents statewide. Most DID agents are assigned an area of responsibility generally encompassing several counties or an entire Judicial District. This arrangement makes the most of the current staffing levels. Each of the 95 counties in the state has a specific and identified contact within the DID. Currently, one DID agent position primarily focuses on illegal gang-related drug activities in West Tennessee.
Drug cases that focus on mid to upper-level targets are labor intensive. Methamphetamine labs typically are time-consuming requiring certified agents or officers due to safety regulations. Electronic surveillance requires monitoring and ground teams. Prescription drug cases usually involve paper trails that cannot be concluded in a single day or week.
In addition, agents are assigned to a number of task force initiatives, including Appalachia High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (AHIDTA), Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), United States Postal Service (USPS), Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms Violent Crime Units (ATF), and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) task forces located throughout Tennessee. This is separate from the responsibilities on the Governor’s Task Force for Marijuana Eradication. It is not uncommon for DID to be called upon to assist the TBI's Criminal Investigation Division. These requests are for a number of tasks involving technical assistance, undercover assignments, human trafficking operations, law enforcement-involved shootings, homicides, and a variety of other crimes.
Of the total 54 drug agent positions, 6 are dedicated to drug diversion investigations. These agents' primary responsibility is to combat prescription drug diversion and are stationed throughout the state. Their investigative statistics have been included in the prescription drugs section of this report.
Tennessee Dangerous Drugs Task Force
The Tennessee Dangerous Drugs Task Force (TDDTF) is a partnership of federal, state, and local agencies collaborating to reduce the availability and illegal use of harmful scheduled drugs.
The TDDTF educates the public about the dangers of all scheduled drugs and works to support law enforcement and other stakeholders by supplying equipment, training, intelligence, and investigative tools to assist in strategically identifying, targeting, and prosecuting drug offenders.
The motto of the Tennessee Dangerous Drugs Task Force continues to be “Protect, Enforce, and Educate.”
Tennessee Alliance For Drug-Endangered Children
The Tennessee Alliance for Drug-Endangered Children (TADEC) is comprised of federal, local, and state agencies who share a goal to “prevent drug-related harm to children and rescue, shelter, and support Tennessee’s children who suffer physical and psychological harm caused by the manufacture, distribution, sale, and abuse of prescription drugs and alcohol.”
TADEC is passionately committed to protecting the drug-endangered children of Tennessee by generating a renewed collaboration of resources from multidiscipline organizations and jurisdictions in the responsibility of protecting these children. Oftentimes, drug-endangered children are left to fend for themselves and the TADEC is committed to providing these children an opportunity to be protected from an environment they have done nothing to cause and from which they should have some recourse.
CONTACT: Tabatha Curtis, Statewide Coordinator
In addition to its general enforcement responsibilities, TBI's Drug Investigation Division has a leadership role in several programs that are integral to Tennessee’s drug enforcement community.
Established in 1998, the Appalachia HIDTA counties, within the four states of Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia, have historically comprised one of the most predominant marijuana production and trafficking areas in the United States. The HIDTA program, which is federally funded through the Office of National Drug Control Policy, provides necessary support to investigative task forces and initiatives operating in its designated area. The Appalachia HIDTA has cultivated cooperative and effective working relationships among U.S. Attorney’s Offices, federal agencies, state agencies, and the National Guard to achieve common goals for disrupting and dismantling drug trafficking organizations and effectively reducing the demand for drugs.
The Appalachia High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (AHIDTA) is currently comprised of 94 counties in Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia. Tennessee is comprised of 31 designated AHIDTA counties. AHIDTA is located within relatively easy driving distance to several major metropolitan areas within the Eastern, Southern, and Midwest United States. Vast public lands combined with a temperate climate, have historically made this region a major area for the cultivation and distribution of outdoor cultivated marijuana. High unemployment rates, low median household income, and loss of blue-collar jobs are socioeconomic factors that contribute to illicit drug use and distribution in the AHIDTA region.
Threat assessments reveal that AHIDTA faces a poly-drug threat. Crystal methamphetamine (ICE), fentanyl, heroin, diverted pharmaceutical drugs, and cocaine distributed by Drug Trafficking Organizations (DTO) based in regional hubs such as Atlanta, Columbus, OH, and along the Southwest border continues to pose a significant threat to the AHIDTA region.
In recent years, methamphetamine, heroin, the diversion and abuse of prescription drugs, particularly opioid-based pharmaceuticals, and alternative forms of synthetic opiates have established themselves as a sizeable threat to the area. The Appalachia HIDTA states rank among the list of top states in the nation for prescriptions per capita and corresponding overdose deaths from prescription drugs, heroin, and other forms of opiates plague the region, particularly in West Virginia. Cocaine continues to make a resurgence during the last three reporting periods. There have been 8 DTOs in Tennessee identified by AHIDTA task forces, 4 of which were classified as violent. These DTOs were responsible for the distribution and trafficking of ice, marijuana, cocaine, fentanyl, oxycodone, and heroin. Through their investigative efforts, these task forces were responsible for 163 events and 736 target deconflictions.
During the fiscal year period July 1, 2021 through June 30, 2022, Appalachia HIDTA task forces operating within the state of Tennessee were responsible for the seizure of drugs valued at more than $51.2 million on the illicit drug market, not including pharmaceutical drugs. These same task forces seized more than $4.0 million in U.S. currency and other assets, including vehicles and real property.
At the direction of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), the Appalachia HIDTA was required to form regional task forces in the states of the Appalachia HIDTA. As a result of this requirement, the TBI was designated as the lead agency in forming a Middle Tennessee Task Force (MTTF). This task force is in the counties of Middle Tennessee as identified by the Appalachia HIDTA. These counties take in three Tennessee judicial districts. These districts include Fentress County in the 8th Judicial District, Jackson County in the 15th Judicial District, and Overton, Pickett, Putnam, and Cumberland counties in the 13th Judicial District. At present, the MTTF is made up of TBI Special Agents and officers from local law enforcement agencies. During the Fiscal Year 2021-2022, the MTTF opened 58 investigations and disrupted/dismantled three drug trafficking organizations. A total of 160 people were arrested. Seven vehicles, 56 firearms, and more than $548,722.54 in currency and other assets were seized by the task force.
The Gulf Coast HIDTA encompasses designated counties/parishes across the six states of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee.
In August 2010, the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) designated Shelby County to be included in the Gulf Coast HIDTA. The Gulf Coast HIDTA funds four law enforcement initiatives in Shelby County; the Shelby County HIDTA Drug Task Force led by the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Shelby County Multi-Agency Gang Unit led by the Memphis Police Department, Memphis Case Advocacy Program led by the United States Attorney's Office, and Border Enforcement Security Task Force led by United States Homeland Security Investigations. TBI DID has one Special Agent Criminal Investigator assigned full-time to the Border Enforcement Security Task Force.
TBI’s DID is also a member of the Gulf Coast HIDTA State Board of Directors for Tennessee and looks forward to continued successes from this task force.
The increase in the inconsistency in hemp and marijuana laws across the nation and misperceptions over enforcement and responsibilities under Tennessee state laws have created a conundrum for Law Enforcement. The TDDTF manages the GTFME program with funds provided by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and primary support from the TBI, Tennessee Highway Patrol, and the Tennessee National Guard. In this role, the TDDTF has provided a great deal of training (see section below) regarding the current cannabis laws and how they impact public safety and TN communities. The goals of the program are to seek out and eradicate domestically grown marijuana, deter marijuana production through enforcement of existing laws, the seizure and forfeiture of assets obtained through drug nexuses, the prosecution of individuals and groups involved in illicit marijuana cultivating, utilization of DI3 and other intelligence sources to generate and share criminal intelligence, and providing the latest technology to streamline investigations that disrupt illegal grow operations. The GTFME season operates from late spring through September each year. However, preparation, training, active investigations, and prosecutions continue year-round.
The 2021 GTFME season successfully eradicated 17,732 plants in 417 plots and seized nearly 2,726 pounds of processed marijuana and 160 pounds of THC wax with a value of over $50 million. There were 23 arrests across the state. In addition, the Tennessee Highway Patrol (THP) Interdiction Plus Unit provided support through efforts to reduce the transportation of illicit marijuana products through Tennessee resulting in the seizure of two kilos of fentanyl, 20 arrests for various felony drug offenses and weapons charges, and three missing children recovered. There were 144 presumptive tests completed in the field on seized cannabis products to determine the legality, based on THC content, of the plant material, processed marijuana, and over-the-counter products as well as those growers who were in violation of Tennessee’s hemp law and Department of Agriculture regulations.