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The OD Epidemic: WBIR Highlights Drug Overdose Crisis

Knox County is on pace -- right now -- to record 300 suspected drug overdose deaths in 2017.

Three hundred. Almost one a day.

As Knoxville Police Department Chief David Rausch told 10News recently, if that many people were dying that often because of any other cause, such as shootings or car crashes, citizens would demand immediate action.

This month, starting today, 10News will highlight our drug overdose crisis.

We hope this community-targeted project, called The OD Epidemic: Heartache, Hope, Help will raise the public's awareness about the epidemic and spur citizens to act.

Each weekday this month we'll be telling you the latest figures on suspected ODs – suspected deaths to date and how that compares with last year at this time.

We'll also be bringing you stories of people on the front lines - medical experts, volunteers, first responders, law officers, families, patients. In addition, we'll present Facebook live discussions with experts who can answer your questions about how to confront the crisis.

We'll also tell you what help is out there and solutions being pursued to curtail the scourge.

"Inside Tennessee", Channel 10's public affairs program that airs each Sunday, also will broadcast specials this month focusing on opioid abuse.

Evidence is growing daily about just how severe our problem is.

In 2015, 170 Knox Countians died in drug overdoses, primarily from opiods such as heroin and prescription pills.

In 2016, the number of suspected overdose deaths reached 221.

As of July 2, we've already reached 165 suspected overdoses, with almost six more months left in 2017.

Last year, America's drug czar visited Knoxville to discuss what's happening here and across the country.

President Trump is proposing some $2 billion to help states address the problem. Leaders say much more is needed.

Tennessee is among several states with pronounced opioid abuse problems. Ohio and West Virginia also have seen an upswing in overdoses and deaths.

Just last week health insurance provider BlueCross BlueShield released its own report about the epidemic, calling it "one of America's foremost health crises."

Opioids, including prescription medications, are now killing more than 33,000 people a year in this country, the highest of any year on record and greater than the death rate when HIV epidemic was at its peak.

Opioid abuse and overdose is now a leading cause of shortened life expectancy in the United States, the BlueCross report states.

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