Dealing with Addiction and Drugs in Knoxville

Opioid Epidemic

91 Americans die each day from opioid overdoses. Users don’t always die from their overdoses but they will still require medical care and treatment. The users also aren’t buying the drugs in a shady alley; they’re buying them from doctors in white coats. Government regulated drugs are being bought legally and abused illegally.

For clarification, opioids generally refer to synthetic drugs (painkillers) that you can legally buy with a prescription while opiates generally refer to drugs that are derived from the opium plant, which is illegal to buy. Both have similar effects.

Knoxville’s first responders have been carrying an emergency treatment of opioid overdoses called NARCAN for years. Rural/Metro paramedics in Knox County administer NARCAN approximately 30 times per week. Ambulances in Knoxville have carried the treatment for almost 20 years but opioid abuse has become so rampant that in 2015 the police and fire departments were also equipped with the treatment.

The city is also attempting to ease the epidemic by opening a new behavioral urgent care center off of Western Avenue. The center will provide treatment to non-violent offenders who are addicted to drugs or suffer from mental health issues. The county commission voted on March 28th to build the facility and the city council will vote on funding for the facility on March 29th.

Seven years of being in office, this will have the most impact in our community in a positive way, and it won’t be a financial burden. It will actually save money. We’re going to show the community that we, in fact, are building a first rate facility and it will be a model for the rest of the state, if not the nation.
Tim Burchett – Knox County Mayor


Facilities like the behavioral care center aim to give drug abusers the treatment and care they need. Treatment they would not receive in a jail. This approach better allows them to beat their addiction, reduce repeat offenses, and for them to return to society without a criminal record.

Marijuana Decriminalization

In September 2016, Nashville city council voted to decriminalize “small amounts” of marijuana. A citizen found with a half-ounce of marijuana or less will receive a $50 fine or 10 hours of community service and the offense will not go on their record. The penalty is up to the arresting officer. Under current state law, a citizen found with any amount of marijuana will face a Class A misdemeanor charge that is punishable by up to one year in jail, a $2,500 fine, and the offense will give the citizen a criminal record.

Memphis passed a similar ordinance a month after Nashville passed their ordinance.

28 states and D.C. have legalized marijuana in some form with three more states joining that list this year. 1/3 of those states have legalized marijuana for recreational use. The marijuana decriminalization taking place in Tennessee isn’t our state’s attempt to start a trend; we are simply trying to catch up with what the other states have been successfully doing: reducing the number of people we send to jail for non-violent offenses, increasing revenues, and reducing the opioid epidemic.

Legalized Marijuana Could Help Curb the Opioid Epidemic, Study Finds

Hospitalization rates for opioid painkiller dependence and abuse dropped on average 23 percent in states after marijuana was permitted for medicinal purposes, the analysis found. Hospitalization rates for opioid overdoses dropped 13 percent on average.

Fewer overdoses. Fewer people in the prison system. Fewer people with criminal offenses. Fewer tax dollars spent on enforcing anti-marijuana laws. Fewer dependent on opioids.

States are quickly learning that legalizing marijuana has a positive effect for the state. It’s time that Tennessee learned that lesson as well.

So, for the record: I support behavioral/mental health facilities to treat addicts as people with health and mental issues, not criminals. I also support marijuana decriminalization at all levels of government.