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Knox Co. DA: More people have now died of suspected overdoses in 2021 than any other year

As of Tuesday morning, the DA's website reported 384 deaths in 2021.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — UPDATE 11/2: More people have now died of suspected drug overdoses in 2021 than any other year, according to Knox County District Attorney General Charme Allen.

As of Tuesday morning, the DA's website reported 384 deaths in 2021. Last year, it said 383 people died of drug overdoses — a dramatic increase over the prior year's dip. 

"Pre-pandemic, we were making those strides and then it hit and we’ve just been going the other direction," Allen said. I was hoping this year that it would turn, but it has not." 

Anti-drug advocates report a skyrocketing increase in people seeking help for addiction.

"The calls are nonstop. The emails are nonstop. The text messages are nonstop," said Metro Drug Coalition's Jason Goodman. The only time it stops is when we stop to take care of ourselves. And then we build up a bulk of calls that we need to return. "

Last year, his organization reported referring nearly 400 people to treatment for addiction — but Goodman said the number would be much higher if more resources were available. 

"As the need has gone up, we haven’t scaled the services to meet the need," he said. "We need more detox beds. We need better access to treatment."

He said the wait for a treatment bed can be weeks-long and addicts sometimes die of an overdose before the resources are available. Metro Drug Coalition now seeks to give callers the opioid-reversing drug Narcan to keep them alive until they can enter treatment. 

A resource crunch is hampering District Attorney Allen's efforts too, she said. Last year her office brought homicide charges against eleven drug dealers. 

"We would like to do more, but honestly with law enforcement's resources and our resources here in the prosecutor's office, we are charging every single one of those that we can," she said. 

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