KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — The hit Hulu show ‘Dopesick’ explores the opioid epidemic and how its roots are grounded in East Tennessee. As doctors and prosecutors speak about the topic, WATE 6 On Your Side wanted to get a look at just how pressing the issue is here in East Tennessee.
Knox County has been hit hard by opioid use, and right now harder than ever. District Attorney General Charme Allen says when the pandemic hit, the community lost ground in the fight against drugs and has since seen a significant increase in overdose deaths.
“In 2021 we saw our highest numbers ever. We had almost 400 overdose deaths in 20, and then in 2021, we had over 450 overdose deaths,” Allen said.
That is more lives lost than there are days in the year. Allen is placing some blame on the Coronavirus pandemic.
“The isolation. Lack of community. People that are struggling with addiction issues, I think that their struggles probably were born out during the pandemic. Fears, anxiety, all of the things that we all dealt with,” she said.
Fentanyl is the drug causing the most damage. Allen said it is the main one they’re seeing in most deadly overdoses.
“It takes more lives than any other life in our community and it’s extremely deadly. That has been something that has come on the scene, when our numbers started rising, it was a result of fentanyl,” said Allen.
The DA’s office is trying to tackle the problem head-on. A group of four full-time prosecutors is devoted to nothing but drug cases.
“We have developed an overdose death task force, where we look at each overdose death as a potential homicide and we try to charge second-degree homicide on any dealer that we can find that we can prove that the drugs that they distributed caused a death downstream or down the chain,” Allen said. “Any life lost to overdose is one too many. So anything that we can do here in the DA’s office to help lower that number of overdose deaths, we are very happy to be a part of.”
More stories from WATE 6 Elizabeth Kuebel
WATE 6 News anchor Lori Tucker will be moderating the Dopesick panel. It will take place at the Bijou Theater. More information is available.