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Task Force to Address Overdose Issues in Knoxville

A newly formed task force will be taking on opioid and drug issues in Knoxville and the surrounding area.

The group's focus will be to investigate overdose incidents, especially those that lead to deaths, according to the task force announcement.

The investigators will work to determine who, if anyone, can be held accountable for providing substances that caused death.

The Knoxville Police Department is the lead agency and will be joined by the Knox County District Attorney General's Office, the Knox County Medical Examiner, Knox County Sheriff's Office, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, as well as Appalachia High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA).

"We're looking at starting some initiatives that no other community has," said Knoxville Police Chief David Rausch.

Rausch said there has been an increase in heroin overdoses in the city. The department has received 86 overdose-related calls this month. Though some could be duplicate calls, Rausch said the data paints a chilling image.

KPD has also been saving more lives using the anti-overdose drug Naloxone. As of Tuesday, the department said the drug had saved 49 people from overdosing in Knoxville since September 2015.

Five of those saves came in the past week alone.

"It's absolutely accurate to say we're seeing an increase in the number of overdose calls, we're seeing an increase in the number of overdoses, we're seeing an increase in the number of overdose deaths, and clearly we're seeing an increase in the utilization of Naloxone to save lives," said Rausch.

In Knox County the epidemic can be measured in lives touched by drug abuse.

Leaders are worried East Tennessee's most innocent are being harmed at an alarming rate compared to the rest of the state. "Our NAS baby numbers are astronomical considering when you look at the Middle Tennessee, Memphis only had four babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome,’ said Knox County District Attorney General Charme Allen. According to state health officials, during that same time 88 babies were born with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome in Knox County. This group's goal is to target dealers and hold them responsible for overdose deaths. "Not just charge them with dealing drugs, but charge them with cases of actual murder. Which I think will go a long way in getting these folks off our streets,” explained Allen.

Since KPD started using Naloxone, officers have had to save one repeat offender twice.

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