KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — On Friday, the Metro Drug Coalition spoke with local leaders about their role in fighting addiction.
MDC pitched legislative changes at the local, state and federal level that could increase access to treatment and prevent future overdose deaths. At least 20 people have died from suspected drug overdoses in Knox County as of November 18, according to the district attorney's office.
That brings this year's total number of lives lost to 424. In 2021, 498 people died from suspected drug overdoses in total.
"It's not an individual disease," said Karen Pershing, the MDC executive director. "It's a family disease. It's a community disease and it impacts each of us every single day of our lives."
Pershing shared some kinds of legislative action that lawmakers could take to help combat the opioid epidemic.
"As policymakers, it's extremely important for them to understand that they can do a lot through just tweaking little policies here and there, or putting new policies in place," Pershing said. "Some of the things we're looking at is access to treatment, especially for individuals who are uninsured ... We also talked about funding for primary prevention."
Pershing also had suggestions for Knoxville and Knox County.
"There are some legislative priorities that we can address at the local level, such as establishments that are 21+ and their smoking rules," said Courtney Durrett, the Knox County Commission Chair. "We can work on the medication drop-offs, getting those things organized."
Pershing also advocated against the legalization of marijuana, until more research suggests otherwise. She also said MDC discourages allowing flavored vapes since they are typically geared toward younger audiences.
"Whether we're just a community member, whether we're parents — all of us can do something to reduce the impact of substance misuse," she said.