Knox County District Attorney Charme Allen addressed the North Knoxville BPA last week about the work of the 41 attorneys in her office. A standing-room-only crowd attended the 8 a.m. meeting at Helen Ross McNabb offices on Springdale Avenue.
Prominent among the topics discussed were drug use and abuse. Allen reported that overdose deaths have been increasing in recent years, especially since drug dealers and suppliers have been lacing fentanyl into the mix of “designer drugs.” The smallest grain of the stuff can be fatal. In addition to opioid pain meds like “oxy,” major culprits include methamphetamines and heroin.
Ironically, the government’s crackdown on pill distribution abuse by pain mills, has increased the sale and use of designer drugs on the street. Allen used the variable term “poly-pharmacy” to describe the drug mixtures. Detroit accounts for much of the drug distribution crime here in Knoxville. China, however, makes and ships much of the fentanyl to the U.S.
Drug death rates have slowed this year since Knoxville’s first responders began administering naloxone to the unconscious “victims.” The fentanyl-mixed drugs have a number of chemical variants (Allen spoke of “fentanyl and its analogues”) – making its potency hard to predict. Its potency varies widely, making such “cut” drug blends lethal at times. Those “poly-pharmacy” mixtures account for nearly two-thirds of the deaths.
The District Attorney’s office stats on drug overdose deaths (documented or suspected) include: 293 in 2017; 292 in 2018; and 190 thus far in 2019 (thru mid-October).
Among the more surprising revelations were the statistics about typical users. One would guess it is mainly kids experimenting with getting “high,” but that is not the recent local experience. According to figures compiled by the Chief Medical Examiner’s office, the largest fatal user group is adults, age 35 to 44, seconded by those age 45 to 54. The 25 to 34 age group came in third in drug deaths.
Basics economics comes into play. Such demand for drugs by local users prompts suppliers to act to meet that demand. Some of that is just about money, of course, quick money. Unfortunately, the drug business often leads to shootings and turf wars.
One wonders, how do we, as a society, break these habits? Do our rescue efforts to revive drug users, repeated times, indirectly enable them to continued bad conduct? Are we sending a message that the risk is tolerable? Or, is the individual’s addiction, however initiated, the driving force that must be headed off by education and rehab treatment? Murky waters.
It seems like society’s “war on drugs” is never-ending.
Nick Della Volpe is a lawyer and a former member of Knoxville City Council