Drug users are overdosing every day, multiple times a day, in Knoxville and Knox County, reflecting the relentless rise of opiate abuse in the metro area, agencies say.
The Knoxville Fire Department, for example, administered naloxone, a drug that can revive someone in the throes of an overdose, 65 times in January and through most of February, according to department spokesman Capt. D.J. Corcoran.
"Now it's just like, Oh, my gosh. If we don't get a grip on this what's that going to mean?" Corcoran told 10News on Thursday.
Calls for help are coming from across the city, in all neighborhoods and affecting almost all age groups, authorities said.
"We've got 20 stations that blanket Knoxville and all of them are answering calls for drug overdoses," said Corcoran. "There was one last night where one made it, the other one died."
From Corcoran's perspective, the only age groups that aren't seeing many calls are for young people under 18 and people over age 65.
He said the frequency of heroin usage is obvious because it's cheaper and easier to get today than prescription pills.
In Knox County, crews with AMR, formerly known as Rural/Metro, also have seen an uptick in the use of naloxone.
For example, in August, officials told 10News they were administering the drug about 30 times week.
In December, the number was 115. In January, that shot up to 173, according to AMR figures submitted to the Knox County Health Department and reviewed Wednesday in a gathering of agencies affected by the scourge.
Of that number, 118 were male and 55 were female.
Katharine Killen, community relations director with the Health Department, said the figures are incomplete and preliminary. Experts in Knox County have begun gathering to share data and target how to respond.
The Knoxville Police Department, whose officers have carried naloxone since September 2015, also routinely is called upon to revive people in the city who have succumbed to an opiate.
"Our officers realize that every call they go on now has the potential," explained Chief David Rausch. "There's a potential they may have to go into life-saving mode."
Department data show officers have treated OD patients 33 times from September 2015 through Feb. 22 in the department's west district and 25 times in the east district in that same time period.
In at least five instances, KPD officers have had to treat two people who were reported to have overdosed at one place.
For example, on Jan. 19 officers went to a crash on Lovell Road in which two people in a Volkswagen had rolled into the vehicle in front of them, which was stopped at a light. Both people in the VW were unconscious because of an overdose. Authorities found evidence of drug use in the car.
Officers gave the people naloxone, which revived both. They were then taken to a hospital, according to KPD.
On Saturday night, according to Corcoran, four people were found unconscious because of an overdose in a car in North Knoxville. First responders from the station at Whittle Springs and Buffat Mill roads answered the call.
Corcoran said first responders didn't have enough naloxone on the truck for everyone so they got an assist from KPD to revive all four.
Often the drug works to save a live. Sometimes it doesn't.
Corcoran said on Wednesday night responders from the same station answered a call of two people who had overdosed at an address on Fairmont Boulevard in North Knoxville. Corcoran said he was barred by federal law from revealing the exact address.
One person was saved; the other person died, he said.
No one yet has figured out how to stop what's happening, he said.
"We're baffled. It's kinda like, What do we do?" Corcoran said.
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