When The Gateway opened its doors to the public on Thursday, the death toll from drug overdoses in Knox County so far this year stood at 357 men, women and children.
In fact, the opiate crisis only seems to get worse despite the strenuous efforts of local authorities to contain it. The numbers are appalling, with more than 2,000 people having perished from overdoses since 2017 and no signs the dying will slow down anytime soon.
Those statistics — and the incalculable suffering they represent— are what drew over 100 people to a refurbished building on West Fifth Avenue at noon Thursday to celebrate the opening of a multimillion center dedicated to addiction recovery.
“We feel an urgency because of the number of people dying from overdoses,” said Karen Pershing, director of the Metro Drug Coalition (MDC). “The sooner we can get the center open and serving the community, the better off the community will be.”
The crowd included some of the most powerful people in the area, many of whom were instrumental in raising the money needed to build MDC’s recovery center. Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs, District Attorney General Charme Allen, and Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon were among those who showed up to support the facility.
Jacobs reminded the crowd of the heavy human and economic costs of opiate addiction. “It’s probably two billion dollars…. Addiction remains a huge, huge issue,” he said.
Kincannon said more than half of the homeless population wrestles with addiction. “The Gateway will provide that sense of community, accountability, and hope,” she said.
The Gateway is the culmination of nearly four years of work and $1.8 million, and it’s only half-finished, according to Pershing.
“We are calling this Phase One,” Pershing said. “Phase Two hasn’t even technically started yet. In the meantime, we wanted the community to know that Phase One will open tomorrow morning at nine.”
Phase One includes rooms dedicated to art and music therapy as well as a large multipurpose space that can be used for training and large meetings. Phase Two will have a workout/recreation area, a computer room, and a coffee shop, she explained.
Phase One was originally budgeted at $1.6 million, but it ended up running over budget due to the same factors that have impacted capital projects across the country. “It’s been an adventure between supply chain issues and increased costs, but the community has been generous,” said Pershing.
By the time both phases are finished, The Gateway will probably cost around $3.3 million, Pershing estimated.
“It’s been a longer journey then we had hoped, but we’re finally getting there,” she said.
J.J. Stambaugh may be reached at email@example.com.
Published on September 23, 2022.