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Drug 'deadlier than fentanyl' causing concerns in East Tennessee among authorities

In 2020, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation saw 17 cases — fatal and non-fatal — involving nitazenes. In 2021, the TBI investigated nearly eight times as many.

KNOX COUNTY, Tenn. — At the Metro Drug Coalition, executive director Karen Pershing has hope.

"Looking just at January and February, we actually saw a 13 percent decrease," Pershing said. "A lot could happen and change, but we're hopeful that we're starting to see those level off."

In Knox County, 2021 was the deadliest year for suspected drug overdoses. Community leaders are hoping 2022 won't continue that trend.

"These are our friends and our neighbors and our loved ones that we're losing to these drug overdoses," Pershing said. "They're 100% preventable deaths."

As of March 17, the Knox County District Attorney's office reported 27 deaths from suspected drug overdoses. 

"Unfortunately, March, we're kind of right on par with last year," District Attorney Charme Allen said. "As you know, last year was a really bad year for us."

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She said a new, deadlier type of synthetic opioid could make the situation worse. 

"These new nitazenes are 20 times more potent than fentanyl," she said. "So nitazenes are very scary as if fentanyl were not scary enough."

In 2020, Allen said the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation saw 17 cases — fatal and non-fatal — involving nitazenes.

In 2021, the TBI investigated 131 cases.

"The drugs are getting more and more potent," Allen said. "As the drugs continue to get more potent, I'm afraid that we're going to see more overdose deaths."

That's why the Metro Drug Coalition offers resources for prevention, education and connection to treatment options. Still, Pershing said it'll take help from the community to make a difference. 

"It's important for anyone to carry Naloxone because you never know when you could rescue someone," she said. 

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