In 2019, there was such a sharp increase in drug offenses in Tennessee that the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation couldn’t keep up with all the cases. In fact, the state’s crime labs received almost 34,000 drug cases that year alone, much more than the usual 22,000 cases per year. Add in the fact that 80% of crimes in Tennessee involve drugs, and you’ll see that drugs are a big problem in this state!

Here’s a look at the top five most used drugs in Tennessee:

#1: Methamphetamine

Police estimate that there are about 800 meth labs in Tennessee, which is a reduction compared to years ago. After all, in 2013, Tennessee passed laws that made it harder to buy allergy and cold medicines that contained pseudoephedrine—which is used to make meth. But instead of reducing meth use overall, it left an opening for cartels from Mexico to start selling meth in Tennessee.

  • Once cartels began selling meth in this state, deaths due to meth and other stimulants quickly rose, reaching 319 in 2017.
  • The meth from these cartels is more potent and less expensive compared to other drugs.
  • This has not only led to more overdose deaths than usual, but also convinced some people to give up other, costlier drugs in favor of meth.

#2: Marijuana

Marijuana is illegal for both medical and recreational use in Tennessee, yet it’s one of the most used drugs in the state. Every year, more than half a million Tennessee residents use marijuana.

Here are a few more facts about marijuana use in Tennessee:

  • In 2016, nearly half of drug-related arrests involved marijuana.
  • Also in 2016, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health published a study that showed that 709,000 Tennessee residents aged 12 and up claimed to have smoked marijuana in the last 12 months.
  • Every year, there are at least 30,000 drug arrests in this state that involve marijuana—over 4 times the amount of arrests involving the next most used drugs in Tennessee.

#3: Prescription Opioids

Prescription opioids are among the most used drugs in Tennessee. In fact, in 2017, it was estimated that about 69,000 people needed treatment for their addiction. Also, nearly 152,000 Tennessee residents were found to be abusing their prescribed opioids. This is why the state got $13.8 million in funding to fight the prescription opioid crisis in 2017.

Take a look at what else you should know about prescription opioids in Tennessee:

  • Tennessee is ranked third in the US when it comes to prescription drug abuse.
  • The rate of deaths from overdose of prescription opioids in Tennessee has decreased slightly in recent years, but it’s still an alarming 9.6 deaths per 100,000 people.
  • In 2017, 644 Tennessee residents died of prescription opioid abuse.

#4: Heroin

Heroin use in Tennessee has risen in recent years. As it gets harder for people to get prescriptions for pain relievers and other drugs, more people turn to illegal opioids like heroin. In fact, in 2016, 260 Tennessee residents died of heroin abuse, which was a 26% increase from the year before.

Here’s what else to know about heroin in Tennessee:

  • 2017: 25 people were arrested in a Memphis drug bust in which a U.S. mail carrier was helping local gangs sell heroin, fentanyl, cocaine, and other drugs.
  • 2019: a man was arrested near Nashville when police found he had over 6,600 pills that contained heroin, but were made to look like Oxycodone, a prescription painkiller.
  • 2020: police seized over 6 pounds—worth about $500,000—of heroin from a high-level drug dealer near Nashville.

#5: Fentanyl

One of the fastest growing most used drugs in Tennessee is fentanyl. In 2014, it caused 69 deaths, and that more than doubled to 174 deaths in 2015. It’s only gotten worse over time, with 2017 seeing a whopping 590 deaths due to fentanyl.

Here are some other facts about fentanyl in Tennessee:

  • Since fentanyl is often added to other illegal drugs, there’s no way for users to know whether they’re ingesting it, or how much they’re getting—making it very dangerous.
  • Fentanyl has spread faster and killed more people in Nashville than heroin has in recent years.
  • A lethal dose for many people could be as small as 2 mg, which could look like a few grains of salt.  

Get Treatment for Substance Abuse in Tennessee  

If you have abused any of the most used drugs in Tennessee—or any other dangerous substances—it’s time to get help. Call your local treatment center today to learn what your next step should be as you get on the path to treatment!


  1. TBI: Record number of drug cases in 2019. (2019, November 5)
  2. Tennessee to Receive $13.8 Million Aimed at Prescription Opioid Crisis. (2017, April 25)
  3. Memphis Police: U.S. mail carrier helped gang deliver drugs, part of larger bust.(2017, May 19)
  4. Police find more than 6,600 deadly heroin pills in Madison drug bust. (2019, August 31)
  5. Sumner Co. drug agents bust major Heroin dealer in Hendersonville raid. (2020, January18)

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