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Knox County Law Enforcement Now Recording Overdoses


Law enforcement officials recently began responding to and documenting every drug overdose reported in Knox County, a change they say helps them fight other types of crime.

The Knox County Sheriff’s Office said its retail crime task force arrested 433 people and recovered $96,000 in stolen property this holiday season. Now, KCSO analysts are comparing the names of people who have overdosed with the names of those shoplifters, many of whom authorities say steal to fund their opioid addictions.

“We do this comparison to better understand the components of the crime, to see who is involved,

where they steal items, and where they sell them,” said Capt. Bobby Hubbs, who heads data analysis for KCSO.

“We also hope to draw public interest and attention to the problem. We want to put the opiate epidemic into perspective.”

The Knox County District Attorney General’s Office lists the number of suspected overdose deaths in 2017 as 294.

If confirmed, that figure would be up from 224 drugrelated deaths confirmed in 2016 and 170 in 2015. Authorities respond to many overdose calls that turn out to be nonfatal.

New code for drug OD

Roughly three months ago, Knox County authorities created a new “ten code” to refer specifically to drug overdoses, according to KCSO Maj. Mike MacLean.

Emergency dispatchers and police use ten codes to quickly relay messages and identify types of E-911 calls. A common example is “10-4,” which means “message understood.”

Before the change, E-911 calls that reported overdoses in Knox County were lumped together with many other types of calls under an umbrella ten code for “sick person.”

Emergency medical workers, not accompanied by law enforcement, handled those calls, whether they involved someone having a heart attack, someone struggling to breathe, or someone who had overdosed on opioids.

Tracking the number of overdoses was time-consuming, as authorities had to retroactively sift through a large number of sick person calls to find the ones that turned out to be overdoses.

According to Hubbs, police only created reports for overdoses when necessary to document deaths or criminal cases, such as fatal overdoses where authorities can charge drug dealers with second-degree murder.

Now that overdoses have their own ten code, 10-37, officers with the Knoxville Police Department or the KCSO join emergency medical workers in responding to each reported overdose.

Police now create reports for every overdose case, “including when Narcan is administered,” Hubbs said, referring to a brand name for naloxone, an anti-overdose drug designed to reverse the effects of opioids.

Each individual report is a public record and can be requested. Police may choose to withhold the report if it is tied to an ongoing investigation.

Crime mapping

Both city and county authorities regularly upload their crime reports to a mapping system developed in 2010.

Anyone can view a version of the crime map on the KCSO’s website, though authorities limit the information that is visible to the public.

Overdose data is not currently visible on the public map, but users can see whether burglaries, robberies, homicides and other crimes have happened close to home.

Authorities who use the crime map to spot trends or patterns in data can filter out the crimes they don’t need to see.

That’s how KCSO is comparing the people arrested for shoplifting this holiday season with the people who have overdosed.

The comparison isn’t complete but has yielded nine matches, Hubbs said — including one woman who overdosed three times and was revived repeatedly by first responders carrying naloxone.

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