Displayed outside of the Knox County District Attorney General’s Office is a tree with a different purpose than the festive trees lining our streets and filling our homes. This tree serves as an overdose memorial tree, decorated with blue and silver ornaments to remember the lives we have lost due to our community’s drug epidemic.
In2017, nearly 300 people died in Knox County due to a drug overdose. The number of overdoses countywide has increased 33 percent in a single year.
To address the rising number of drug-related deaths in Knox County, I helped spearhead the Drug Related Death Task Force in 2017 with Appalachia HIDTA, Knox County Regional Forensic Center, Knox County Sheriff’s Office, Knoxville PoliceDepartment, and United States Drug Enforcement Administration. Through this inter-agency effort, data is shared to reduce the number of drug overdoses and,ultimately, stop traffickers from supplying dangerous drugs in our community.
We began tracking and analyzing these numbers as a way to reduce drug activity in ourcommunity by advancing our investigation and prosecution tactics. Every day the number of overdose deaths goes up and every day I am more aware of the fact that these numbers represent, not only lives lost but, also, grieving families and a community gravely impacted by drug abuse.
Since the Drug Related Death Task Force formed, the District Attorney General’s Office hascome to know the victims’ families and see the pain caused by the death of aloved one. The Office is committed to fighting the drug problem in our community and hopes to use awareness to caution our community and show how the presence of drugs impacts everyone.
This year is the fourth year the Office has organized the Overdose Memorial Tree. Family members are invited to hang an ornament in honor of their loved one who passed away. Tracee Smith, Felony Drug Unit Victim/Witness Coordinator with theDistrict Attorney General’s Office, coordinates the tree and the families who wish to participate.
The holiday season is a particularly hard time for families and this tree offers them a place to grieve. It is important for the families to know they are not alone and it’s also important for us to share their stories to help prevent drug-related deaths in our community.
The Drug Related Task Force offers a support group for families of overdose victims. For more information, contact Tracee Smith at (865) 215-3875.
Also, if you or a loved one is seeking help for drug addiction, call The Tennessee REDLINE (1-800-889-9789). The Tennessee REDLINE is a toll-free information and referral line. The purpose of the REDLINE is to provide accurate, up-to-date alcohol,drug, problem gambling, and other addiction information and referrals to allcitizens of Tennessee at their request.