KNOXVILLE (WATE) – In an effort to raise awareness about prescription pill and heroin overdose deaths the Knox County District Attorney’s Office has put up its first Christmas tree in memory of those in Knox County who have died from prescription drug and heroin overdoses.
Assistant District Attorney and member of the felony drug unit Sean McDermott says the DA’s office put up the tree in the City County Building in hopes of bringing attention to the problem.
“We’ve seen a dramatic increase in the past several years of opiate related deaths due to the growing epidemic of prescription pills and heroin in East Tennessee,” said McDermott.
He says the crack down on prescription drugs has driven up street costs of pain pills causing addicts to turn to heroin to get their high.
“Heroin is a cheaper alternative to oxycodone, so when people can’t afford the street prices for pain pills they’ve turned to heroin,” said McDermott.
The increased use of opiates is not only causing the DA’s office to prosecute more drug cases in the courtroom they’re seeing more over dose deaths. McDermott says there are 64 confirmed opiate overdose deaths this year in Knox County and there may be dozens more.
“Tennessee ranks number two in the nation for per capita opiate addicts. We’ve got more addicts than all but one other state,” said McDermott.
To combat the problem Knox County prosecutors are going after the dealers.
“If you distribute those drugs and the distribution results in the death of the victim that can be a second degree murder charge,” said McDermott.
McDermott hopes the tree serves to raise awareness that these addictive drugs can be very deadly. According to McDermott 237 cases are being reviewed from this year to see if the deaths were the result of prescription pill or heroin overdoses.
He says prescription pill addiction affects all ages and socio economic classes. If you or someone you know is suffering from the addiction there is help available call the Helen Ross McNabb Center at 1-800-255-9711.