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'It's the same problem over and over' | Here are the locations with the highest volume of overdose calls in Knoxville

Three blocks of Broadway are responsible for about half of the overdose calls for service in Knoxville.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — New data from Knoxville Fire Department shows the areas across the city that are receiving the most overdose responses. 

The map shows drug overdoses are happening in every part of the city. However, high-volume areas include Merchant Drive, near the highway exit, and some parts of East Magnolia. The area with the most frequent responses for suspected overdose can be attributed to three blocks on Broadway, near the viaduct.

Credit: Knoxville Fire Department

The blue dots represent a single overdose call. The green represents more than one, the yellow represents several dozen calls and the red spot represents 1,000 overdose calls.

This map is based on the Knoxville Fire Department's data set of 2,116 overdose responses for 2022. The points are based on possible overdose responses. This does not represent Narcan administration either before KFD’s arrival or by AMR.

"One of the very most common calls is the overdose calls. We also run a variety of different medical calls. Around 70% of what we do is medical calls," said Assistant Chief Mark Wilbanks with KFD.

He said, on average, KFD runs overdose calls about seven times a day split between the stations.

"There is not a section of the city that has not been affected by overdoses. It really affects all types of the population, all demographics, all age groups," Wilbanks said.

He explained the process of responding to overdose calls. Sometimes, firefighters administer Naloxone to help open someone's airway during an overdose. Sometimes they have to use multiple doses. Then, if the person is responsive, they try to convince the user to go to the hospital.

Wilbanks said these calls are hard on the firefighters.

"It's very tiring on our crews and it's very sad. They get tired of having to see these folks in these situations," Wilbanks said.

The Broadway hotspot sticks out on the map. It represents about half of KFD's overdose responses in 2022. 

10News wanted to know what makes certain areas more susceptible than others.

"One of the biggest things is accessibility. And maybe there's more of a concentration of accessibility in those areas," Wilbanks said.

In order to better understand the economics of drug accessibility in the area, 10News asked people on Broadway what they think.

"It's just the same problem over and over and over," said Adam Stewart.

He is experiencing homelessness in downtown Knoxville. Stewart said he ended up on the streets after breaking up with his girlfriend. He spends a good amount of time on Broadway, to access the outreach centers in the area.

"What I've seen since I've been here is just a lot of people doing methamphetamine, heroin, and fentanyl. They are losing their minds. They're not even the same people that they should be," Stewart said.

10News asked Stewart to explain the accessibility of buying drugs on the streets. He said many people, both living in homelessness and not, go to the area to purchase drugs.    

"That's all it is. That's the whole reason they're here," he said.

Stewart said he doesn't use drugs. However, he said he knows the cost. 

"It's going to be something like $35 and you are (expletive) up for the next day and a half. So, spending that little bit of money, and you're going to get whatever you can get from these people," Stewart said.

He said sometimes, that comes in the form of heroin. Sometimes, it's methamphetamine (ice), and sometimes it can be an unknown combination of things — including fentanyl.

"I wish I could tell you there was going to be a better ending to this. But there's not," he said.

Another woman experiencing homelessness on Broadway, Tina Norman, says overdoses are so common under the bridge that many times people don't even call 911.

"We try to help them. We're trying to give them the Narcan. Everybody has that on hand. We give it to them, then we'll call 911. Depending on if they're breathing or not," Norman said.

She keeps a box of Narcan with her at all times. She said just the other day, she helped administer Narcan and saved someone's life.

"It's just scary, it's really scary," Norman said. "It's very dangerous because as soon as they get the needle in, and it hits, they can be completely out of it."

Wilbanks said the potency of street drugs is a growing concern for first responders.

"We're seeing is stronger, harder drugs that are harder for people to get off. It's harder for us to treat in the field, especially fentanyl," Wilbanks said. "So, we're giving folks Narcan, not just one dose, but two doses or three doses before we can get a response. And that's very sad."

But, Stewart said the potency of the drugs isn't a cause for concern for people on the street.

"The overdose here is not a problem. That is just something that they deal with every single day. And they love it. They don't care," Stewart said. "They're thinking of the next day, how they can get through the next problem. There's no happy ending. There really isn't."

According to data collected by the District Attorney, there were 505 suspected overdose deaths in 2022. This year so far, Knox County has 167.

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