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More people have died of suspected drug overdoses this year in Knox County than all of 2019 combined

In 2019, 259 people died of suspected drug overdoses. But by late September 2020, officials said 260 people died.

KNOX COUNTY, Tenn. — Nine months into 2020, Knox County is already seeing more suspected opioid deaths compared to all of last year. Just in September 2020, 26 people died of suspected overdoses in the county.

That brings the total so far this year to 260 people. In 2019, there were 259 suspected overdose deaths and 2020 still has three months left.

For people working to beat addiction, this year has created some new obstacles.

"When the governor did the stay-at-home orders, the first thought that came through my mind was, 'oh my gosh this is gonna be horrible for people in recovery,'" said Karen Pershing, Executive Director of the Metro Drug Coalition.

Pershing said she's been watching how many suspected overdose deaths have happened since March. She said she was sad, but not shocked at the outcome.

"The disease of addiction is a disease of isolation," said Pershing.

As COVID-19 closures started they impacted recovery meetings, which were canceled for weeks before several kinds of meetings and organizations started moving to virtual solutions.

"When people isolate and they don't have that accountability, you usually see people relapse and drug use go up," said Pershing.

That's evident in the increasing amount of suspected overdose in Knox County.

"We're starting to see those numbers level off," said Pershing.

But with three months left in the year, she knows the fight isn't over yet.

"We've got to continue to reach out, we've got to continue to reduce shame and stigma, and bring this to the forefront and get the people the help they need when they need it," said Pershing.

Because every new overdose is a lost life with a death worth preventing.

"These people are extremely important for us to connect with and try to save their lives and try to get them to a better place," said Pershing.

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, we have a list of help hotlines, support group meetings and recovery programs.

Click this link to access those resources.