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Knox Co. DA: 87 Suspected Overdose Deaths in 2016

Knox County's top prosecutor is calling the number of overdose deaths in the area "overwhelming." “As of this [Tuesday] morning, we've had 87 overdose deaths in our county this year [2016],” said District Attorney General Charme Allen.

She and her team are taking aim at the people supplying the drugs that lead to the overdose deaths with a 26-year-old law.

“As the opioid problem has gotten worse, we as law enforcement, have tried to respond. So we've pulled a lot of tools out of our tool belt,” she said.

One of those tools is using a 1990 law to charge the people who supply drugs in an overdose case with second degree murder.

Allen said drug dealers are a big part of the opioid epidemic and prey on addicts who will do anything to get drugs. “These folks are dying because these drug dealers are trying to make money. Of course, that's something we want to stop. We want to send a message," Allen said. "We want to say human life is valuable. Making a dollar does not in any way validate selling drugs to someone who ends up overdosing on those drugs." In just the last week, two people have been charged with second degree murder for overdose-related deaths in East Tennessee.

Sunday, Sevierville Police arrested Elisha D. McDowell for providing a toxic level of Fentanyl to Mohammed Hafeez in February 2016.

Last Tuesday, a Knox County Grand Jury indicted Matthew Lawson for supplying the drugs that killed his girlfriend, Brittany Skyberg.

According to her obituary, she was a fourth year chemistry student at UT, a swimmer, and a dancer. She died at just 27 years old in 2014. “When you look at the overdose deaths, it's the cheerleaders, it's the quarterbacks, it's the bankers, it's the guy under the bridge that hasn't had a home in the last 10 years. It is everybody in our community that is effected by this,” said Allen.

Lawson is the fourth person prosecuted for an overdose death in Knox County, the first for the Knox County Sheriff's Office.

Allen said her office started looking into every overdose death in Knox County about two years ago when the numbers began to spike. These types of cases can be labor intensive and time consuming cases to build.

“It’s a very difficult thing to do because there are so many pieces that have to come together to make one of these cases work,” she said.

Allen added she is also working with the local prescription drug task force, the state legislature, and police to strengthen laws and close pill mills.

She said she's seeing signs that the efforts are helping.

"The fact that the word on the street is that 'in Knoxville they will come after you,'" Allen said, "Even the folks in prison know that Knoxville is not the place you want to be dealing drugs."

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