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Overdose Pushes Knoxville Fire Department to Its Limits

by Cedric Dent

August 27, 2022
Knoxville Fire Department paramedics escort someone who overdosed on something.

Little more than midway through the month, the Knoxville Fire Department had responded to about 101 overdose calls in August 2022 alone, according to reports. This speaks to how rampant drug and alcohol overdose rates are becoming. So far, August has accounted for almost half the city’s overdoses all year. Several significant trends have influenced this, including the major, national uptick in fentanyl overdoses. However, a broad miscellany of local entities are trying to help the city keep up between emergency services, metro services and concerned citizens.

Overdose Deaths Recorded by Knoxville Fire DepartmentKnoxville Fire Department has its hands full with overdose calls.

August recorded 19 fatal overdoses in Knox County as of the 19th, which marks one per day according to District Attorney Charme Allen. Last year at the same time, August had seen 28 suspected overdose deaths, and the month closed with final reports ultimately finding 44 suspected overdose deaths. So far this year, Knoxville firefighters and paramedics have responded to over 1,300 overdose calls. A paramedic in Knoxville is likely to to see at least one such emergency on every shift. The city has seen 200 fatal overdoses already this year.

“It’s eye-opening,” Knoxville Fire Department Assistant Chief Man Wilbanks told ABC News. “Just today alone, we’ve had five overdose calls we’ve ran. Now those go up and down depending on the day, but five today I think is significant.”

Metro Drug Coalition vs. Overdose Deaths

The Metro Drug Coalition (MDC) is organizing an event for International Overdose Awareness Day on August 31. The event will be held at Volunteer Landing Park to span from 5 to 8 p.m. The event will begin with a resource fair and end with a candlelight vigil. In between, it’ll feature a myriad of special guest speakers, including Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs, Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon and Sheriff Tom Spangler.

The MDC has made merchandise available for pre-order online, and the same swag can be purchased onsite at the event. All proceeds will be allocated to the MDC’s Recovery Housing Support Fund. That fund helps house those in recovery who don’t have the means to enter other safe housing. 

Ongoing Save a Life Tour

Wraquel Spencer Brown, founder of local nonprofit Forget You Not, has partnered with Tennessee Recovery Alliance to establish the Save a Life Tour. It’s an event that will educate and provide resources to anyone who attendance. Among the resources provided will be Narcan, an overdose reversal spray.

Brown wants to inundate her community with Narcan kits to make things easier for firefighters and paramedics who respond to overdose calls. She hopes emergency services will be dispatched less often on these calls so that they can focus on crime, automobile accidents and medical emergencies of another kind. 

Brown’s tour is ongoing and will pick back up on Tuesday at Cokesbury United Methodist Church from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. The Save a Life Tour is already responsible for disseminating more than 100 Narcan kits. To get involved or seek more information, contact Brown at forgetyounottn@gmail.com or 865.208.3004.

Knoxville Fire Department: Boots on the Ground

Paramedics are getting increasingly adept at administering Narcan. However, they rarely used to need Narcan on the job a decade ago. For Knoxville paramedics, it was in a multi-use vial according to Andrew Link, a firefighter and paramedic with Knoxville Fire. This just shows how much less paramedics felt it was necessary to carry Narcan, which would theoretically correlate with significantly less need.

“It’s very hard for our folks to see people do this and owe see people that do it over, and over, and over,” Wilbanks added. “We give them Narcan, we bring them back because they almost die a lot of times. We bring them back and then we show back up again in about a week or two and that’s unfortunate.”

The Knoxville Fire now stocks up on more Narcan than ever and carries more on hand because of how often they have to administer it. Wilbanks attributes this to drugs on the street being more potent than they used to be. Link says these drugs are predominately heroin and fentanyl; if not, then it’s other opioids. These overdoses are pretty evenly spread across all areas of the city and amongst all demographics therein, too.

“We have had to increase the amount that we give people because the drugs have become so much stronger and now there are new drugs out on the street that sometimes it takes three and four doses of Narcan to get somebody back. That’s very, very bad,” Wilbanks said.

If you or someone you know are among those stuck in the cycle of substance use disorder and perhaps even chronic overdose, visit Landmark Recovery of Knoxville or call 865.448.5174.

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