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How the DEA Plans to Tackle Opioid Abuse, Crime in Knoxville


Knoxville will be the 13th city to pilot a program designed to attack drug abuse and violent crime from all sides, the U.S. Department of Justice Drug Enforcement Administration announced Tuesday.

At an event at the Boys and Girls Club of the Tennessee Valley, DEA Louisville Special Agent In Charge D. Christopher Evans announced Knoxville will pilot the DEA’s 2-year-old “360 Strategy,” which he called “a model for communities struggling to break the cycle of drug trafficking, abuse and violence.”

The program, designed specifically for cities dealing with opioid abuse and the associated violent crime, “takes DEA outside its normal role” and involves widespread cooperation among local and federal agencies, law enforcement, substance abuse treatment providers, substance abuse prevention programs and community nonprofits, Evans said.

“There are no silos,” he said. “This is an opportunity for us to move together and work together to make this community a safer place.”

The approach

Its approach includes: Providing DEA leadership with coordinated DEA enforcement actions targeting all levels of drug trafficking organizations and violent gangs supplying drugs in neighborhoods, as ongoing law enforcement operations has been doing.

Engaging drug manufacturers, wholesalers, practitioners and pharmacists to increase awareness of the heroin and prescription drug problem and push for responsible prescribing and use of these medications throughout the medical community.

Changing community attitudes through outreach and partnership with local organizations giving them the tools to fight the heroin and prescription drug epidemic in the aftermath of DEA enforcement actions. This includes educating parents/caregivers; educators; after-school organizations like the Boys and Girls Club and athletic organizations; and area employers.

Already some successes

District Attorney General Charme Allen said her office already has seen successes partnering with the DEA on its Overdose Drug Death Task Force.

“We have been able to charge just over 122 cases last year,” including second- degree homicides, that the DA’s office would have had more difficulty charging without the DEA’s assistance, she said.

Evans said officials will form a “Community Alliance” that includes key leaders from law enforcement, prevention, treatment, the judicial system, education, business, government, civic organizations, faith communities, media, social services and others, “to form the core of a long-term group that will cross disciplines to help carry the prevention and treatment messages to the local population during the critical post-operation timeframe.” Later, DEA and this group will host multi-day summits to look for ways to address drug abuse and the problems that accompany it.

“DEA’s 360 Strategy makes use of every community resource available to reach young people and attack the heroin and prescription drug epidemic at every level,” Evans said. “This comprehensive approach unites everyone who has a stake in making Knoxville a safer community for our children.”

Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero noted that several agencies and organizations have stepped forward to deal with issues that would have been unexpected just a few years ago — such as first responders, who are now called upon to routinely administer the opioid antidote naloxone.

“It is clear to everyone the issues around have touched every part of our community.,” Rogero said. “It will take all of us to turn the tide on opioid abuse.”

Multi-day summits in future

In the future, DEA and its partners also plan to host multi-day summits to bring community leaders together to look for long-term ways to effectively address drug abuse, addiction, trafficking and the violence that accompanies it.

Evans called the response to DEA’s request for local partners in the greater Knoxville area to participate in the 360 Strategy “overwhelming,” noting local partners include: AMR Emergency Medical, AMR Rural Metro Fire Department, Appalachia HIDTA, Boys and Girls Club, Buddy’s BBQ, City of Knoxville Mayor’s Office, Coca Cola, Cokesbury United Methodist Church, Community Coalition Against Human Trafficking, Cornerstone of Recovery, D1, DeRoyal Industries, Dollywood, East Tennessee Children’s Hospital, Emerald Youth Foundation, Enrichment Federal Credit Union, First Baptist Concord Church, Food City, Fraternal Order of Police, Helen Ross McNabb Center, Knox County District Attorney’s Office, Knox County Health Department, Knox County Mayor’s Office, Knox County Regional Forensic Center, Knox County Schools, Knox County Sheriff Department, Knoxville Fire Department, Knoxville Ice Bears, Knoxville Police Department, Zoo Knoxville, Label Industries, Lamar Advertising, Mayfield Dairy Farms, Metropolitan Knoxville Airport Authority, Metropolitan Drug Commission, the National Guard Counter Drug Task Force, Overcoming Believers Church, Powell United Methodist Church, Regal Entertainment, Summit BHC English Mountain Recovery, Tennessee Bureau of Investigations, Tennessee Highway Patrol, Tennessee Smokies Baseball, Tennova Healthcare, University of Tennessee Police Department, and Weigel’s.

Pastor Daryl Arnold of Overcoming Believers Church said at the announcement that churches must recognize the community is “sick” and partner to heal it.

People “don’t use drugs because they’re wicked,” Arnold said. “They don’t use drugs because they’re bad. They use drugs because something is broken in their lives.”

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