On International Overdose Awareness Day COVID-19 pushes overdose deaths up in Knox County


KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Monday marked International Overdose Awareness Day. While some hope they are never affected by this, the reality is that many people and their families are. Knox County’s District Attorney General Charme Allen said overdose numbers had been on a downward trend in Knox County — until COVID-19 hit.

In a chart posted on the district attorney general’s website you can see the jump in overdose deaths in March. January and February had lower numbers, but come March of 2020, those numbers went up.

In 2020 so far, 218 people had died from overdoses in Knox County, according to the site. For perspective, in 2019 there were 259 overdose deaths. In 2018 that number was 294. Though we were on track to see less overdose deaths this year, COVID-19 changed the trajectory.

“I would assume that it’s the stress of the virus. It’s the loss of friends and loved ones. It’s the isolation. It’s the economic downturn. Loss of jobs I guess. It’s just a combination of the virus being very hard on everyone and those folks that are addicted, unfortunately, when life becomes harder for them, that’s when they turn to their crutch the addiction,” Allen suggested.

Who are the people dying from overdoses? The district attorney general said it’s likely not who you think.

“I think that there’s still probably a stigma there that the folks that are dying are criminals. Career criminals. That’s just not true. Overdose deaths effect a wide range of our community,” Allen explained.

She said they are mothers, business owners, and even doctors. As for the ages of people dying, it’s mostly middle-aged members of the community.

“Young folks being addicted. Those teenagers and early 20s, those numbers are starting to go down a little bit, which gives me hope that our campaign against drugs, against fentanyl, trying to get the next generation, making them aware of the dangers of drugs may be working,” she said.

The goal moving forward was to prosecute the top dogs. The district attorney general said they would continue to try to hold drug dealers responsible for overdose deaths.

Candlelight vigil held

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