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"We're losing generations here" | Experts gather for the Metro Drug Coalition East TN Opioid Conference

Lt. Heather Reyda with the Knox County Sheriff's Office said opioids have affected nearly every part of life in Knox County.

LENOIR CITY, Tenn. — After a year where Knox County reported a record number of suspected overdose deaths, organizers put together a conference where professionals can work towards solutions. Medical professionals, law enforcement and those involved in drug treatment gathered at the Metro Drug Coalition's East Tennessee Opioid Conference. 

During the conference, law enforcement experts from the Drug Enforcement Administration, Knoxville Police Department, Knox County Sheriff's Office and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation talked about how opioids were impacting East Tennessee. 

TBI Director David Rausch said his agency saw a change over the last six months with regards to fentanyl. Rausch said the bureau is seeing more people buy fentanyl by itself, not laced in other drugs. 

"People are actually wanting fentanyl," Rausch said. "Those who are addicted actually are seeking it out." 

Rausch said people are pressing fentanyl into pills that look like pharmaceuticals. The TBI director said his teams now have to test the pills to figure out what is inside of them — they can't just look at the pill. 

In Knox County, Lieutenant Heather Reyda, the head of the Drug Related Death Task Force, said it was hard to watch last year's record-setting suspected overdose deaths. 

"The numbers last year were kind of appalling," Lt. Reyda said. "It truly has affected every walk of life in our community." 

Law enforcement at the conference said the best way to quell the opioid epidemic is to prevent people from taking them in the first place. 

"It's still shocking that people really don't understand how addictive opiates and opioids are," said Lt. Reyda. "No one sets out to become addicted." 

Director Rausch said the three drugs most commonly found in Tennessee are methamphetamines, synthetic marijuana and fentanyl. However, he said fentanyl kills the most Tennesseans. 

Rausch said because these drugs are synthetic, cartels can flood the market and sell them at low prices because they can be made in a laboratory.