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Drug Crisis is Nothing New for Knoxville

Local and state officials are alarmed about the opioid epidemic and overdose deaths it causes. The Federal Drug Administration approved the use of Oxycontin in 1995 and by 2000, according to figures in the News Sentinel, sales had grown from $48 million to $1.1 billion for drug maker Purdue Pharma. Other companies have their own brands.

Just how long has such drug abuse been a problem? Did officials know about it, or did they really care?

Knoxville had more than its share of abuse over a century ago, but there didn't seem to be a big crackdown until it spread to the better parts of town. It has been hard for our society to learn that addictions, just like diseases, can cross all boundaries. They can ravage any class or race of people.

The Knoxville Journal and Tribune of March 4, 1900, gives a clue about the drug of choice then andhow it took hold: “The growth of the habit of cocaine 'sniffing' among the poorer classes of the city is alarming.

Nearly every druggist in the city, but more especially those patronized by the poor classes and those which keep open their business houses all night, can bear witness to the fact. A year ago its use as a habit in Knoxville was very rare, but is now being called for in the big places on Gay Street.”

The article gets into specifics: “The first genuine cocaine ‘sniffers’ that made their appearance in Knoxville were half a dozen negro women from Middlesboro about eight months ago and began its use on Central Avenue. From then the habit spread to bothblack and white of both sexes. It has become a great fad.” The article goes into great detail as to how the drugs are taken and how openly it is done.

Some “salted” their beer with cocaine, some used a hypodermic needle or a spoon, but the “most popular method is to sniff it up the nose. Then comes a most delightful influence. The ‘sniffer’ begins to float through space. The use of the drug is largely confined to prostitutes of the Bowery. ...

“And a man or woman, when the habit gets hold of them would sell their souls for a sniff.”

That may have been the assessment in 1900, but law enforcement is at risk just by breathing or touching some of the drugs in use today. With the rabid addiction and the greed in pushing drugs legally and illegally, there is no way to know how the sad drama will end. It will likely get worse before it gets better. As more people 25-44 spend more time in hospitals for drug-related problems, no end is in sight.

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