KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — The Knoxville Fire Department reported that they responded to 101 overdose calls in the city during August.
District Attorney Charme Allen has counted 19 suspected overdose deaths so far this August. By August 2021, 28 overdose deaths were suspected and that month totaled out to 44 suspected overdose deaths. Many are hoping to not repeat that trend.
“The unfortunate part is we have become very good at this,” said firefighter and paramedic Andrew Link. “We can see the signs a mile away.”
No doubt Knoxville firefighters and paramedics are busy. This year alone they have responded to more than 1,300 overdose calls. Just about every shift Link works, he’s responding to one of those emergencies.
“It’s eye-opening,” Knoxville Fire Department Assistant Chief Mark Wilbanks said. “I looked just before I came over here today, just today alone, we’ve had five overdose calls we’ve ran. Now those go up and down depending on the day but five today I think is significant.”
When Link started his paramedic career about 10 years ago, things were a lot different. Narcan, the overdose antidote medication, was rarely used.
“It was in a multi-use vial so it was something we did not use hardly at all,” he said.
“It’s very hard for our folks to see people do this and we see people that do it over, and over, and over,” Wilbanks said. “We give them Narcan, we bring them back because they almost die a lot of times. We bring them back and then we show back up again in about a week or two and that’s unfortunate.”
The fire department is keeping more Narcan on hand not only because first responders are administering the life-saving medication more often. The drugs that people are using are becoming stronger.
“We have had to increase the amount that we give people because the drugs have become so much stronger and now there are new drugs out on the street that sometimes it takes three and four doses of Narcan to get somebody back. That’s very, very bad,” Wilbanks said.
“Majority of them are opioids,” Link added. “It’s usually heroin or fentanyl, or a combination, or all the above.”
Wilbanks added that there is no area in Knoxville where overdoses are more common and the increase is across all demographics.
August is overdose awareness month and the 31st is International Overdose Awareness Day. The Metro Drug Coalition will host a big event that Wednesday at Volunteer Landing for people to learn more about curbing Knoxville’s drug overdose problem.