Task force report: Nearly half of Knox County drug overdose victims arrested in past 5 years


KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Nearly half of Knox County’s fatal drug overdoses last year were arrested in the county within the last five years according to the 2019 Fatal Overdose Victims and Criminal Justice System report.

District Attorney General Charme Allen released the report on Monday. The annual summary presents interactions between overdose victims and the criminal justice system from data gathered by the Drug Related Death Task Force.

“Community collaboration has helped reduce the number of overdose deaths in our community,” Allen said. “However, as we are seeing through the current public health pandemic, our work is not done. The criminal justice system was not designed to address the root issues of addiction. Success in preventing overdose deaths requires a multiprong approach, and we invite the community to use this report to inform a comprehensive plan.”

Fentanyl and synthetic opioids

Fentanyl and synthetic opioids were the most frequently identified drugs in drug-related deaths.

The Knox County Regional Forensic Center’s most recent Drug Related Death Report indicates that the top five drugs found through autopsies in Knox County are synthetic opioids, methamphetamine, alcohol/ethanol, heroin, and cocaine.

Overdose deaths down by 9.8%

Not including alcohol, 293 people died from a drug overdose in 2019 in Knox County, a decrease of 9.8% from a year ago. Interactions with the criminal justice system and overdose victims also decreased for the first time in five years.

In 2019, 26% of those who died were released from jail sometime in the year before their death. Of those victims, 83 were male and 35 were female. One hundred and five, 89%, were white and 13, 11%, were Black.

Thirty-one percent of the deaths, 37, among those arrested in the county within the last five years were from the 35-to-44 age demographic. Ages 45 to 54, made up 25%, as did the 25 to 34 age span. Only four overdose victims age 18 to 24 had an arrest in Knox County in the previous five years.

In 2017 and 2018, nearly half of those individuals had a most recent jail stay of seven days or less, indicating that many people who fatally overdose and are involved in the criminal justice system have short-term jail stays. The number of individuals who died within one year of release and had a recent short-term jail stay decreased from 13% to 8% in 2019.

The report is available on the Knox County District Attorney General’s website, https://knoxcounty.org/dag/.

About the Drug Related Death Task Force

The Drug Related Death Task Force is a multiagency investigation and prosecution team who examines overdoses that occur in Knox County. Founded under the direction of the Appalachia High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, the task force consists of the Knox County District Attorney General’s Office, Knox County Regional Forensic Center, Knox County Sheriff’s Office, Knoxville Police Department, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, United States Drug Enforcement Administration, and other regional law enforcement agencies.

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