A Year in the Fight Against the Opioid Epidemic
As we look back on 2017 in the fight against the opioid epidemic, we've seen the amount of overdoses in our community hit an all-time high, task forces formed to fight back and treatment programs help people recover and live a life free of addiction. The fight has been full of heartache, hope and help.
For Joni Laymon, the loss of a loved one weighs heavy.
"This is where I come visit him, he's always with me right here," she said near her son's grave.
Joni is one mother who lost her son to a drug overdose and who shared her story for others to know they are not alone.
The Craddocks also lost their son in 2017.
"You are holding him, praying and making deals with God but in the end God wanted him more than we did," George Craddock said.
The heartbreak of losing someone to a suspected drug overdose is reality for more than 260 families in Knox County in 2017.
Overdose deaths are at an all-time high. According to the Knox County District Attorney's office, more than 270 people have died from a suspected drug overdose in the county.
In 2017, Knoxville firefighters and Knoxville police dealt with the overdoses from the ground level. Both agencies playing a large role in saving people from suspected drug overdoses with the life-saving drug Narcan.
Several top law enforcement officials shared their personal fight against the opioid epidemic.
"I'm not alone. There are thousands of others out there like me who are dealing with this on a personal level," Knoxville Police Chief David Rausch said.
Chief Rausch held back tears when he shared his story on the state floor in February 2017. He is raising his grandchild who was born drug-dependent while Rausch's stepson seeks help.
"You do everything you can to help them. And you look for opportunities to help them," Rausch said.
Oliver Springs Police Chief Kenneth Morgan's own daughter is in jail as a result of her addiction.
"That demon hooked her and it was hers to fight," Chief Morgan added.
With the heartbreak comes hope.
One woman in White Pine used her experience fighting addiction to help her sister get clean.
"If it didn't help anybody but my sister I would still do it every single day if it didn't help anybody but her," Mallie Moore said.
Mallie has now taken her story to the White House. She and Chief Rausch stood behind President Trump as he declared the opioid epidemic a national public health emergency.
President Trump's announcement placed the problem in the public eye with prevention being the focus.
Programs like Generation RX educate children on prevention and there's also hope for the youngest generation.
Data shows the number of babies born drug dependent with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome has decreased 18 percent from 2015 to 2016.
Expecting moms like Nicole Rhyne got help from treatment centers and doctors at UT medical center.
"I wanted to do this without any medications as possible because that to me was another addiction in itself," Rhyne said.
Even with the problem being so great, there is help. Knox County formed an overdose death task force.
More East Tennessee law enforcement agencies started carrying the life-saving drug Narcan.
Several DA's in East Tennessee also filed lawsuits against the big pharmaceutical company Purdue Pharma, claiming their actions led to the opioid epidemic.
The focus moving forward continues to be on prevention.
Knox County schools educated students on the epidemic by showing the FBI documentary 'Chasing the Dragon.'
WBIR partnered with Knox and Anderson Counties for two drug take back days and collected 500 pounds of unwanted medications.
As 2017 comes to an end, the fight is far from over.
The overdose memorial Christmas tree has more ornaments this year than last.
Families hope by just sharing their story they'll help save a life.
"I don't want any other parents to go through what we've gone through with our son," said Kim Jones, a mother who lost her son to an overdose.