Tramel talks links between opioids and retail theft

Shannon CareyHalls

According to Lee Tramel of Knox County Sheriff’s Office, there is a direct link between opioid addiction and retail theft, and the problem is only getting worse.

Tramel spoke to the Halls Business and Professional Association Feb. 20, and he said the Sheriff’s Office is being proactive to address drug-related crime.

Opioid addicts, he said, steal items from big-box stores, then return the items at another location of the same store across town. The stores give gift cards for the return, which the thieves sell to a third party for half price, giving them the cash to purchase more drugs. The cycle is a “full-time job” for addicts, Tramel said, and they often make just enough this way to “stay well,” and avoid the debilitating effects of withdrawal.

Six years ago, the Sheriff’s Office started the Organized Retail Theft Unit, intended to address theft during the holiday season. The unit now operates year-round. In November and December 2017, it made 433 arrests and recovered more than $96,000 worth of stolen goods.

“We have seen and learned so much in the past six years,” he said.

Officers learned to treat retail theft like other drug crimes, “climbing the ladder” to find out who is selling the drugs.

But, Tramel said making arrests will not address the problem underlying retail theft: opioid addiction. Many addicts didn’t set out to use drugs to get high. They received opioids from their doctors to treat pain and found themselves addicted. Tramel urged caution when prescribing or taking pain medication, particularly stronger opioids like oxycodone.

“These are great drugs if you have a terminal illness, but there is no reason for them to be writing it for a toothache or bum knee,” he said.

Education and treatment are the only ways to address the opioid epidemic. “What would we spend if our loved ones had cancer? We can’t treat it any differently,” he said.

He encouraged everyone to visit the crime map on and to be aware of what is going on in their neighborhoods. He also asked people to report any suspicious activity they see.

“Our community is our great force equalizer,” he said. “If you see something, say something.”

Business Spotlight

John Heifner of Workout Anytime

John Heifner of Workout Anytime in Halls was the featured business owner at the HBPA meeting. He said their new facility near Rural King has all-new equipment. It’s also next door to the North Knox County Sheriff’s Office precinct, so there is added safety for visitors to the 24/7 fitness club.

In fact, law enforcement officers get complimentary memberships.

“We’re not a huge box. We know the people who come in, and I train most of the people there,” he said.

Halls Middle Beta Club

Halls Middle School student Colby Cardwell

Colby Cardwell of the Halls Middle School Beta Club spoke to the HBPA about the club’s upcoming trip to the Beta Club National Convention in Savannah, Georgia, this June. Two HMS Beta Club teams, quiz bowl and robotics, came in first in the state in November. The club is raising money for the trip and other projects, and donors will have their names placed on the club’s T-shirts.

In addition to competitions, the group visits a local nursing home, is helping with the school’s fundraising golf tournament, and collected school supplies and toiletries for those impacted by Hurricane Harvey.

“This has been a highlight of my middle school years,” said Cardwell.

Those who would like to donate should call the school at 865-922-7494.

Halls Prayer Breakfast

HBPA president Bobby Hubbs said the group will sponsor the Halls Prayer Breakfast 7:30 a.m. Friday, March 30, at Beaver Dam Baptist Church, with Don Dare as the speaker. Tickets are $15, and table sponsorships are available. For info, call Sue Walker at 865-925-9200.

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