Community forum tackles addiction

Closing his Knox County tour, Dr. Al J. Mooney stopped by Union College on November 14 for a community forum titled “Facing the Addiction Crisis: From Prevention to Solutions.” Joining Mooney to discuss the ongoing drug epidemic in Knox County were UNITE Director Nancy Hale, Jason Els from Union College, Reverend Leonard Lester, Barbourville ARH CEO Charles Lovell, Sheriff Mike Smith and Mayor David Thompson.

One of the topics of discussion included statistics on how drug addiction is affecting Knox County overall. According to Lovell, 35 percent of the deaths in Knox are drug-related overdoses. The national average is 16.3%, or nearly half that of Knox County.

“Even for us beyond just the overdose deaths is the increase in Hepatitis C and HIV that we are seeing more and more of in the emergency room and patient setting,” continued Lovell.

Smith mirrored Lovell’s statistics.

“What we encounter the most in order of prevalence is Methamphetamine, Suboxone and Oxycontin. As far as the effects on the community, I would say 90 percent of the calls and crimes we deal with are drug-related,” said Smith.

Smith reported this puts a strain on his deputies, department and overall budget. They are also seeing jail overcrowding as a result of increased drug use and are finding more syringes in Knox County, including on school playgrounds, parks and on the sides of roads.

Not all hope is lost, though.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been in a community that brought so many resources together,” said Mooney. I’ve never had this hope, mostly.”

“We all work together and I see that as a huge plus for the city and county,” concluded Thompson.