KNOXVILLE (WATE) – The opioid problem that’s become an every day issue for East Tennessee is getting national attention and help from Washington D.C.
The U.S. District Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Tennessee announced Tuesday it has been one of 12 districts chosen to take part in the newly formed Department of Justice Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit. The aim of the unit is to help combat the opioid crisis many families across America are battling.
The district is receiving funding for an assistant United States Attorney. Assistant United States Attorney David Lewen, who was the chief prosecutor for former judge Richard Baumgartner, was tapped to be the face of the task force in East Tennessee.
“The nature of drug dealing is really no different than any other kind of drug dealing. Its about money so lives are lost because of money. We want to stop that,” said Lewen.
He will have a three year term. The goal is to reduce the amount of deaths in the Eastern District of Tennessee, focus on investigating and prosecuting health care fraud and looking at pharmacies and doctors who are over prescribing.
The task force will primarily use numbers from a variety of databases to find the people contributing to the epidemic. They will be prosecuting on a federal level and partner with the FBI and TBI, as well as local law enforcement.
Data analytics will help the US Attorney’s office identify the people contributing to the epidemic.The Knox County District Attorney’s office has counted 199 suspected overdose deaths so far this year. In 2016, there were 244. In 2015, there were 170 suspected overdose deaths.
“These lives are lost in exchange for money and we want to stop that,” said Lewen.
“Lives will be saved as a result of this unit,” said Chief David Rausch with the Knoxville Police Department.
Knoxville police with other local and state agencies formed a drug overdose task force earlier this year. They already have an inside look into this terrible problem and can help point Attorney Lewen in the right direction.
“We are going to bring down the opioid abuse problems that orbit this epidemic,” Lewen said.
Lewen said there is a relationship between opioid and opiate overdose deaths. He said a person who uses heroin probably abused prescription drugs first. He believed looking at the root cause could prevent someone from trying these harsher drugs.
The US Attorney’sOoffice in the Eastern District is looking to federally prosecute medical providers. US Attorney Harr said in Greeneville a a physician who was over-prescribing was given a life sentence.