Drug deaths and arrests keep rising

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Thanks to the epidemic of opiate addiction and associated street violence, the death toll from the Drug War in Knoxville and Knox County is continuing its seemingly inexorable rise, statistics show.

In fact, the number of lives lost due to overdoses and homicides since 2017 is now just shy of 2,000 — which means that more lives have been lost due in Knox to the opiate epidemic than to COVID-19 and the Spanish Flu combined. 

 The reaction of officials from the Knoxville Police Department has been to aggressively target crimes involving illegal drug sales and firearms, and it could be argued that their strategy has already had some success in reducing violent crime. 

There have been nine homicides in Knoxville thus far in 2022, according to KPD records. By way of comparison, there had been no fewer than 16 homicides as of April 18 of last year, which was the city’s bloodiest year on record.

Although the homicide rate in Knoxville has dropped by almost half compared to this time last year, the number of fatal overdoses — 126 as of April 14 — is roughly the same as it was in mid-April 2021, according to statistics from the Knox County District Attorney General’s Office.

While the current opiate epidemic has raged for almost a full generation, it took a deadly turn in the late 2010s when state and federal authorities opted to make it far harder for patients suffering from painful injuries or illnesses to legally obtain prescription painkillers such as oxycodone or morphine. 

The policy, however, was a financial bonanza for the organized crimes groups who controlled the supply of heroin flowing into the country. Heroin soon replaced infamous prescription drugs such as OxyContin on the streets of America, but cartels and gangs eventually began cutting their products with a much stronger (hence more lethal) drug called fentanyl, ultimately leading to record numbers of overdose deaths across the country. 

Fentanyl is a highly potent and short-acting synthetic painkiller that’s been used for decades in hospitals and for outpatient chronic pain treatment. It’s also relatively cheap to illicitly manufacture, and not only has it almost completely replaced heroin on the streets but it’s also commonly found in everything from methamphetamine to counterfeit pills. 

“In an ongoing effort to prevent violent crime and overdose deaths, Knoxville Police Department officers are working vigorously around the clock to take drugs off the street and guns from those who do harm in the community,” said a KPD spokesperson last week.

As part of their continued focus on street-level enforcement of drug and weapon laws, KPD officers filed criminal charges against 51 people — aged 17 to 55 — over a seven-day period, they said.

“In a review of KPD reports from incidents that occurred between Monday, April 4 and Sunday, April 10, officers also seized at least nine firearms as evidence or that were possessed in violation of state law, over 52 grams of heroin, nearly 48 grams of meth, over eight grams of cocaine, 16 grams of ecstasy, 25 grams of unidentified narcotics, over 80 individual pieces of drug paraphernalia and over $20,000 in cash from suspected drug sales and distribution,” the spokesperson said. 

“In total from those incidents over the past week, multiple individuals were charged with unlawful possession of a weapon, possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony, convicted felon in possession of a weapon and manufacture, sale or delivery of a controlled substance,” they continued. 

Police officials stressed that they need the cooperation of citizens if they are “to make Knoxville a safer, better place. Residents can do that by remaining vigilant and reporting any suspicious activity to the KPD. East Tennessee Valley Crime Stoppers is a mechanism for residents to provide information to the KPD.”

Anyone with information regarding criminal matters, ongoing drug activity, the whereabouts of a wanted fugitive or that could assist in a criminal investigation may contact East Tennessee Valley Crime Stoppers any time of the day or night, they said.

Crime Stoppers can be reached by phone at 865-215-7165, online at www.easttnvalleycrimestoppers.org, via the P3 Tips mobile app or by texting **TIPS. 

Tipsters can remain anonymous, and they may be eligible to receive a cash reward if their tip leads to an arrest or the confiscation of narcotics.

Published on April 18, 2022.