Not immune to opioid epidemic

FWKCC panel addresses drug problem within Town limits

Farragut is not immune to the opioid drug epidemic in East Tennessee, Farragut and Knox County business representatives were told during the 2017 Farragut West Knox Chamber of Commerce Breakfast Speaker Series.

“We were looking at the ZIP codes of the intake,” Knox County District Attorney General Charme Allen said. “The highest ZIP code [of people] that came in that facility came from here,” she said, referring to Town of Farragut. “It is in Farragut. It is here.”

Allen was one member of a panel of experts who spoke about the opioid drug problem during this quarterly Chamber speaker event in Fox Den Country Club Tuesday, Aug. 22.

The panel also consisted of state Sen. Dr. Richard Briggs [R-District 7 that includes Farragut and Concord], a lung and heart surgeon; Karen Pershing, Metro Drug Coalition executive director, and Lee Tramel, Knox County Sheriff’s Office chief of Administration.

Reports of home and vehicle break-ins and shoplifting are directly related to that drug epidemic, Tramel said, adding drug addicts are committing those crimes to get money to buy drugs.

“[The epidemic] has manifested itself in 20 years,” he said, adding that at the same time, the number of overdoses has increased.

“The overdose deaths are terrible,” Allen said. “We have a serious, serious problem here in Knox County. Last year, we had 224 overdose deaths in Knox County.”

She added as of Aug. 21, “We had 218 effective overdose deaths [during 2017]. We will equal or surpass last year’s numbers probably next month.”

Opioids are a class of drugs that include synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl, and pain relievers available legally by prescription, such as oxycodone [oxyContin], hydrocodone [vicodin], codeine and morphine.

“The opioid issue doesn’t have any social-economic boundaries,” Capt. Robbie Lawson, Knox County Sheriff’s Office liaison for the Farragut community, said Aug. 24. “It’s million dollar homes to the projects. There’s not a limit to the opioid issue.”

Lawson said a problem might start for an individual when a doctor prescribes pain medication because of an injury and it becomes an addiction.

“Opioids are highly addictive no matter who you are,” he said. “So, the boundaries don’t stop at the City of Knoxville line, Town of Farragut line. It’s East Tennessee, Knox County and City of Knoxville.”

“What really catches your attention is the amount of people who are affected,” said Knox County Commissioner Carson Dailey, who attended the breakfast, adding 5,000 crimes were committed by 408 people.

“And, the deaths that occur,” he added. “People don’t realize, in Knox County the Town of Farragut is the center. We would think in Farragut, ‘They’ll be all right. That’s not going to happen down there,’ but this is where it’s happening.”

“We have to get pills off the street,” Briggs said, adding 95 percent of the state legislation has been motivated by the Metro Drug Coalition’s efforts.

Among those bills is one piece of legislation, which has helped decrease the opioid dealers, that demands prescribers have to show legitimate reason for the prescription, Briggs said.

Pershing said young people need to be educated at an earlier age about drug abuse and she urged parents to talk to their children about drug use.

“I thought it was a great Speaker Series,” attendee Mike Shaw with Energy Management Consultants said. “Last year, I came to it also. It’s really just keeping the word out there in the community and getting more involvement as a business owner to know that, ‘Hey, you’ve got this epidemic.’”

“I think it’s so important that we were able to be a part of this event,” said Deborah Crouse, media relations and project director with Metro Drug Coalition. “It’s important for businesses to know they can be a part of solving this epidemic.”

“The complexity of the issue is going to take a multi-disciplinary approach,” said attendee Angie Denton, in market development with Tennova Healthcare. “I didn’t realize it reaches across all social-economics.”

One suggestion panel members made was when an employee tests positive for drugs that the employer keep that person’s job open while he or she completes rehabilitation.

“Typically, I would say, ‘No, hey, there’s no way,’ but now you think about it as a different alternative that you can take that person’s life, change it a little bit and help him make a difference,” Shaw said.

“The biggest problem, as a small business owner, is we don’t have the resources, and some of the people coming in are only working part time so you can’t offer them benefits and you can’t offer them things to get what they really need for help,” he added.