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Drug overdoses increase during pandemic

More than 81,000 people died from drug overdoses between May 2019 and May 2020
Published: Feb. 9, 2021 at 6:47 PM EST
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - A recent CDC report shows drug overdose deaths rose 18.2% between June of 2019 and May of 2020.

”I think the uncertainty and the instability because of the pandemic. The isolation it has created through social distancing and I understand we need to do that but these are some of the unintended consequences of the pandemic. AA and NA meetings, there were several months where they weren’t meeting in person anymore so the support type meetings weren’t happening, churches weren’t meeting in person,” said Matt Brown, senior vice president of administration at Addiction Recovery Care.

Brown himself is in recovery.

Addicted to opioids for nearly two decades, he has been sober for seven years and now works to help those in the same place he once was.

”Just seven, eight short years ago things weren’t happening like they are today,” said Brown.

Brown is referring to ways to buy drugs and the prevalence of fentanyl-laced drugs.

Fentanyl is a synthetic drug, meaning it’s made in a lab, that is potent enough to kill a human by only a dose equivalent to three grains of sand.

”I fear that we have a dismal next few years ahead of us as we climb out of the ramifications of this pandemic,” said Brown.

In Knox County, 31 people died from suspected drug related overdoses, nearly double the year before.

”I don’t think that this year is starting off any better than last year, it’s actually starting off worse,” said Charme Allen, Knox County district attorney general.

Gen. Allen was optimistic heading into 2020 believing the work being done by her office in collaboration with other community partners was working.

“Yes, I think at the beginning of last year, at the beginning of 2020 we would have all said we are beginning to get a handle on all of this we are beginning to really grasp what’s the issue, and grab our piece and work together as a whole. But then the pandemic came and last year was hard,” said Allen.

For Gen. Allen and her office, the idea is to get resources to those addicted and prosecute those dealing.

”We try to separate the addict from the dealer and as prosecutors, we try and stop the flow of drugs into our community,” said Allen.

As numbers trend in the wrong direction, there’s hope in the Attorney’s General office that once the pandemic subsides, there can be real change in the drug epidemic.

”I believe that at that point, all the good work, that foundation that we have in place, and because it is in place, that will be a quick transition,” said Allen.

Addiction Recovery Care has several resources available for those struggling with addiction that can be found here.

The National 24/7 hotline for those struggling with mental health or substance abuse issues is 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

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