Knox County Schools and WBIR worked together to host the third opioid forum in a series across the community at Fulton High School Wednesday night.
Students, parents, teachers and community leaders filled the auditorium to watch the documentary "Chasing the Dragon" and hear from panelists and experts on the opioid epidemic.
Debbie Oyler was one of the parents in the audience. She has four kids and wants to be able to have an open conversation with them about drugs.
"It's just terrifying," Oyler said. "I've read about it. I know people that have been involved in it and just slid into it kind of by accident."
Neil Morgenstern, drug education and prevention coordinator for the Appalachia High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA), spoke about the statistics and commonalities among the users featured in the documentary.
He said most of the addicts in the documentary started off by using marijuana.
"The (Knox County) Health Department just released a student survey, very recently just came out with that they say one in five students in Knox County have tried marijuana within the last 30 days, so that's a lot," Morgenstern said. "That's 20 percent, so that figure is just way too high."
However, research on the legalization of cannabis published in the American Journal of Public Health concludes legalizing marijuana in Colorado is associated with short-term reductions in opioid-related deaths. Advocates for decriminalizing marijuana argue it would save millions in court and incarceration costs because people would no longer be sent to jail for something that would be legal.
Parents like Oyler said marijuana is a concern, but it's not her main focus when opioids are so prevalent.
"Just from the generation I grew up in, it doesn't worry me as much as some of the other things," Oyler said, "but it is in a culture that is associated with that."
Panelists included people in healthcare, law enforcement, school administration and prevention advocates. Their main message to parents is to start talking to children at an early age about drugs and medications.
"It starts early," said Knox County District Attorney General Charme Allen. "It is never too early to talk to your kids about the opioid epidemic and how to avoid being a part of that."