The week before Thanksgiving, the Metro Drug Coalition (MDC) addressed Knoxville’s municipal leadership regarding the opioid epidemic. They’re challenging contemporary policy at the local, state and federal level. The MDC is pushing for legislative changes to expand access to treatment and prevent future, fatal overdoses.
Death Toll and Community Needs
By Nov. 18, Knox County had already recorded at least 20 deaths for the month due to suspected drug overdoses in Knox County. This keeps pace with 2021 by the same time. Last year totaled 498 deaths from suspected drug overdoses by year’s end. So far, 424 lives have been lost in Knoxville due to fatal overdose in 2022.
“As policymakers, it’s extremely important for them to understand that they can do a lot through just tweaking little policies here and there, or putting new policies in place,” said Karen Pershing, MDC’s executive director. “Some of the things we’re looking at is access to treatment, especially for individuals who are uninsured […] We also talked about funding for primary prevention.”
The logic behind the MDC’s focus is that addiction never just affects one person. It affects whole families and their communities. Therefore, the community needs to cooperate to prioritize the fight against substance use disorders.
Metro Drug Coalition’s Community Center
This comes two months after the MDC also opened The Gateway. It’s a community center in North Knoxville that provides recovery resources and, to an extent, addiction treatment. Since its inception on Sept. 23, almost 1,000 people have been helped by The Gateway.
Located off Broadway in downtown Knoxville, a block from Knoxville Area Rescue Ministry (KARM) and Salvation Army, Gateway has attracted some of the homeless and uninsured from these neighboring missions. Some of them struggle with drug and alcohol abuse.
Gateway offers narcotics anonymous and alcoholics anonymous programs, plus other group therapy sessions open to the public. They also offer arts, crafts, music and coffee to support treatment and recovery programs with a coffee shop to officially open in 2023.
Metro Drug Coalition’s Policy Focuses
The MDC has positioned itself against the legalization of marijuana. It’s one of several difficult positions the organization has to take in order to advocate for change. The Coalition also stands against flavored vapes because they’re generally targeted toward kids.
“There are some legislative priorities that we can address at the local level, such as establishments that are 21+ and their smoking rules,” said Courtney Durrett, chair of the Knox County Commission. “We can work on the medication drop-offs, getting those things organized.”
These are loose ends that the MDC wants tightened. They exemplify the policy tweaks Pershing mentioned that would make a difference in the community. The goal is to curb substance abuse in as many ways as possible.
“Whether we’re just a community member, whether we’re parents — all of us can do something to reduce the impact of substance misuse,” Pershing told local NBC Channel 6 News.
Knoxville’s Unique Substance Abuse Problem
Knoxville’s prescription opioid crisis, meanwhile, stems largely from the fallout of Florida tightening opioid dispensary regulations in 2010 and 2011. Since Tennessee offered tax incentives and Knoxville is a trucking node, Endo International targeted Knoxville with its Opana ER prescription combo-medication. Much of Endo’s 3,100 opioid lawsuits – whose filings were followed by Endo filing for bankruptcy with billions of dollars of debt – came from Knoxville.
As such, many in Knoxville need more help than The Gateway can provide. In order to recover safely, check into Landmark Recovery of Knoxville and do so under the supervision of licensed, trained healthcare professionals. Call 865.448.5174.
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