Last year 237 people died in Knox County of apparent drug overdoses. This year has started out just as bad with prospective overdose deaths happening about five times a week.
Authorities are scrambling to find a solution.
In 2015, Knoxville police started carrying Naloxone, which blocks the effects of the drugs on the respiratory and central nervous system. By January of this year, officers had saved 49 lives by administering the antidote.
Still, the epidemic claimed more than 1,400 lives statewide last year.
The plague has rocked the nation, and Tennessee has been especially hard hit.
In 2015, health care professionals in Tennessee wrote more than 7.8 million opioid prescriptions — the equivalent of more than one for every man, woman and child in the state. Remarkably, that total was down from 2013, when 8.5 million prescriptions were written.
But as pills such as oxycodone, hydrocodone and Percocet have become harder to get, heroin use has risen.
“There’s no part of the country that can match our agony in this,” said Joel Reece, Tennessee state director of Appalachia High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas, which is funding a local Overdose Deaths Task Force.
Knoxville Police Chief David Rausch knows the problem all too well. Testifying last month before a state task force on opioid abuse, he told how he and his wife are raising the infant child of his stepson and his girlfriend because both are addicts.
Rausch will be one of the panelists on Tuesday, March 28, when the News Sentinel and BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee sponsor Tennessee’s Opioid Epidemic Forum.
The event will be a chance for citizens to get involved by joining the conversation, asking questions and expressing concerns about this health calamity.
Joining Rausch on the panel will be Dr. Martha Buchanan, director of the Knox County Health Department, and Dr. Andrea Willis, chief medical officer for BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee.
The forum will be 6-7:30 p.m. at the West High School Lecture Hall, 3300 Sutherland Blvd. Admission is free, but participants are asked to register in advance by going to forum.knoxnews.com.
Read more in the Knoxville News Sentinel.