KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – Regional medical providers have collaborated to host an annual East Tennessee Opioid Conference that’s now in it’s sixth year as the battle to curb the opioid epidemic intensifies.

This year’s event was the highest attended conference since getting started six years ago, proving that it’s all hands on deck as the opioid problem continues to grow.

“It’s going to require a lot of different people from a lot of different venues and point of views to get our hands around the entire situation,” Dr. James Choo of Pain Consultants of East Tennessee said.

Dr. Choo one of the many medical professionals in attendance of todays conference learning and talking about the ongoing problem of opiate use. From 2017-2021 the number of overdose deaths in Tennessee involving stimulants has gone up 245% and that number is continuing to climb. Law enforcement officers are doing what they can to combat the problem.

“They’re in the trenches all day, everyday trying to keep drugs away from individuals,” Metro Drug Executive Director Karen Pershing said. “They can’t do it alone either and this panel will really shed light on what they’re seeing in terms of supply so that the rest of the community understands their important role in this and how we can all help as citizens.”

Knox County District Attorney Charme Allen explained why we are still seeing an increase in this problem.

“It’s supply and demand,” Allen said. “We saw a decrease in the number of overdose deaths in 2019, the first year we saw a decrease. That was from collaborative work locally. Then the pandemic hit in 2020 and our numbers skyrocketed. Since 2020 we have increased by about 50 deaths per year.”

D.A. Allen adds that they are implementing new strategies like the “313 Initiative” and seeing dividends.

“Just last Sunday there were ten arrests made here and in Michigan of individuals travelling back and forth with the drug trade,” Allen said. “We got ten weapons off the streets and we took in multiple grams of Methamphetamine, Fentanyl and Heroin.”

Even with the initial success of the “313 Initiative” the problem still remains and there is more that needs to be talked about in how to fight this epidemic. Conference attendees collaborated to help one another to figure out the best way to try and end the opioid problem.

The District Attorney General keeps track of how devastating the addiction crisis is on our community and we are told that so far this month there have been 34 suspected deaths bringing the number to 72 since the beginning of the year. In that same time frame last year we reached only 53 overdose deaths.