Overdose deaths increase 41% in Knox County

According to the report, the number of overdose deaths in Knox County increased 41 percent compared to a 9.8 percent decrease in 2019.
Updated: Jun. 14, 2021 at 8:55 AM EDT
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - The Knox County Regional Forensic Center released its 2020 Drug-Related Death Report for Knox and Anderson Counties.

The report includes data on drug-related death cases the Center investigated from 2010-2020.

“2020 was a tough year for a lot of people,” said Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs. “Sadly, many of those battling addiction were without the help and support they needed, and the numbers in this report reflect that.”

According to the report, the number of overdose deaths in Knox County increased 41 percent compared to a 9.8 percent decrease in 2019.

The report stated fentanyl, fentanyl analogues and novel synthetic opioids were the most frequently identified drugs in drug-related deaths in 2020. The five most common drugs identified in drug-related deaths in 2020, were synthetic opioids, methamphetamine, alcohol/ethanol, heroin and cocaine, according to officials.

Polypharmacy, which is when more than one drug is responsible for a death, was involved in 72 percent of Knox County’s overdose deaths and more than 80 percent in Anderson County.

“As we began collaborating with a number of nonprofit and governmental agencies to bring awareness to the perils of overprescribing, the numbers of overdoses started to drop,” said Dr. Darinka Mileusnic-Polchan, chief medical examiner. “Our efforts were finally paying off in 2019 as the overdose deaths began to decline. Unfortunately, 2020—the year of Coronavirus pandemic—happened and the rest is history.”

Dr. Mileusnic-Plochan said a large number of addicted and physically dependent individuals who were in need of help in 2020 were left to their own devices due to the pandemic.

“Business closures, job losses, social distancing, stress due to media amplified fears, economic hardship, socioeconomic unraveling of our communities, and lack of access to treatment modalities have not only negated all the head-earned success but have led to a rise in the overall mortality from unnatural causes, including drugs,” she added.

Young and middle-aged men were disproportionately affected by drug overdose compared to women and, in Knox County, the report revealed. Officials said, people 34-44 years experienced the most drug deaths in Knox County, but the largest increase was in individuals age 55 to 64.

“The overdose epidemic in Knox County, like that in the nation overall, continues to grow in magnitude, but is also changing in character,” said Chris Thomas, Senior Director of the Knox County Regional Forensic Center. “In 2020, 413 people died from drug overdose in Knox County compared to 293 in 2019 and 51 people died in Anderson County compared to 28 in 2019. Preliminary data for drug-deaths in 2021, unfortunately, indicates an even more upward trend for drug-related death cases in Knox County.”

Officials said prescription opioid-related deaths continue to decrease in Knox County.

To read the full report, click here.

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