History of the Metropolitan Drug Commission

April 1986 – October 2005

The Beginning: 1986-1990

The MDC has served as the drug abuse prevention, professional training and public awareness arm of Knoxville and Knox County for almost two decades. In early 1986, Scott Dean, a prominent Knoxville business man, whose family had been touched by the ravages of substance abuse, was encouraged by the anti-drug prevention efforts of the Reagan administration to do something about the problem in Knoxville.  By April of that year he had converted Mayor Kyle Testerman and County Executive Dwight Kessel to his cause.  They in turn convinced the City Council and County Commission to pass a resolution creating a Metropolitan Drug Commission co-sponsored by the City, County and the Chamber of Commerce. Mr. Dean convened leaders from government, law enforcement, the schools, treatment/social services and business to find an effective means of turning the tide against substance abuse.  They decided that only an all-out effort embracing all elements in our community could hope to succeed.
On June 20 of 1986 this partnership of community leaders from public and private sectors received its non-profit charter as the Metropolitan Drug Commission (MDC), charged to establish an alcohol and other drug umbrella organization for Knoxville/Knox County. The new MDC Board of community leaders was committed to developing a plan of action to address alcohol and drug abuse in Knoxville/Knox County.  Board members that first year included our current City Mayor Bill Haslam and the only Board member still serving, then United States Attorney John Gill. Funding for projects during this time depended on Scott Dean’s ability to get donations from his contacts in the business community.

Initially the MDC concentrated on the Knox County School System where very little was being done to address substance abuse.  A core group of teachers from every Knox County middle and high school were trained to recognize youth in trouble with alcohol and/or other drugs and how to obtain help for these at-risk youth.  A chemical abuse specialist was hired for the school system, at the recommendation of the drug commission, to facilitate and coordinate the Knox County schools’ drug abuse prevention efforts.  The MDC and the Knox County Schools jointly sponsored training for parents on alcohol and other drug abuse, through the nationally recognized Parent-to-Parent program.

The MDC, even in the early days, made every effort to bring its message to the public at large.  A Community Intervention Training used appearances by pro basketballers Johnny Dawkins, Buck Williams and Michael Jordan (yes, Michael Jordan) to insure broad media coverage.

Other MDC initiatives in the early years included drug awareness training for area businessmen and convincing area religious leaders to develop a drug education component in their congregations.  State, federal and local law enforcement were active partners in selling the MDC’s message that law enforcement was necessary, but not sufficient, to deal with our alcohol and drug abuse problems. The MDC was instrumental in drug-testing policy development for business and government, and prominent leaders in the community lead by example by volunteering for random drug tests in 1987.

From the establishment of the MDC until late 1989, Scott Dean as President, acted as a de facto executive director. On October 15, 1989 an executive director, Jill Griffin, from the staff at Peninsula Treatment Center, was hired on a part-time basis with a salary from Knox County and office space and office supplies from the City of Knoxville.

Off and Running: 1990-1997

In 1990, the city and the Metropolitan Drug Commission received a five-year grant from the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention (CSAP), Department of HHS to survey the community, determine needs, and provide a community forum to develop a plan of action to reduce substance abuse problems in the community.  In 1992, the CSAP grant was transferred to the MDC so issues could be addressed from a broad community base, distinct from any one political entity.

From October 1990 to December 1995 grant funding provided the MDC with a staff of up to 9 people, including a full- time executive director.  Here is a list of some of the accomplishments during the grant:

  • Fifteen surveys in the areas of Community Knowledge; Attitudes and Behaviors; Substance Abuse in the Workplace; Youth and Drugs; the Role of the Faith Community; Judicial and Legal Issues; Health, Safety and the Drug Abuser; Drugs and Pregnancy.
  • Over 100 large and small trainings on issues relating to drug and alcohol abuse.
  • A clearinghouse of alcohol and drug information with a large library of materials about substance abuse, treatment facilities, and current research available for loan to the community.This was a critical source of hard-to-get information in those pre-Internet days.
  • A major community awareness initiative with support from numerous media outlets, “It Happens Here,” culminated with a live TV program all aimed at community awareness that we were just as impacted by substance abuse as any other place in the country.
  • Alcohol and other drug media training program for representatives from local television, newspapers, radio and billboards.
  • DUI Forum in 1992 with Dr. C. Everett Koop as keynote speaker, Jerry Springer as moderator and sixteen local and national experts on DUI.  This televised forum focused attention on DUI and resulted in funding for 2 additional DUI prosecutors, the establishment of a DUI Court, and creation of a Court Monitoring System that used local volunteers as citizen representatives in DUI court.  The DUI Forum was a major public event, 6 months in the making, which resulted from a break down in the prosecution of DUI cases, a policy of “compassion” for DUI offenders by the then District Attorney and some tragic deaths of teenagers.  Media coverage was intense leading up to the forum, and 500 people packed the Main Assembly Room at the City/County Building.  The Forum was a watershed event, and its impact is still being felt today.
  • Provided training for over 5000 Knoxvillians in all aspects of alcohol, tobacco, and other drug education including substance abuse in the workplace, parenting education, peri-natal issues, and prevention.
  • Assisted local businesses in the implementation of drug-free workplace programs. The MDC was instrumental in the enactment of Tennessee’s Drug-Free Workplace Act.
  • The Assessment Center, screening selected individuals convicted of DUI in order to help reduce alcohol and drug-related problems.
  • The MDC Alliance sponsored the Parent-to-Parent program and the annual Red Ribbon Celebration.

Without a Net: 1997-1999

The great benefit of the big CSAP grant was that it provided staffing and money to get the MDC off to a running start.  The MDC Board had never needed to build a broad base of financial support. Because the grant substituted for support from local government, when the grant ran out, the MDC was not ready to become self-sufficient and had established no safety net for lean years. After Jill Griffin’s departure in 1997, the MDC Board selected Robert Vint, who had worked in substance abuse treatment in Florida, as the new executive director.  The Board set as Bob’s top priority the establishment of a drug court in Knox County.  During his tenure as executive director until 1999, the MDC succeeded in getting grant funding and initiating the drug court.  This was not an easy effort, since it involved getting courts, prosecutors and defense attorneys to work together to get treatment rather than jail time or probation for criminals in Knox County courts. Judge Richard Baumgartner and 2004-2005 MDC Board President Judge Tony Stansberry stepped forward to do the extra work required to run the Knox County Drug Court.  They both continue to do so today.  Bob Vint also focused on substance abuse prevention in the inner city with the kids most at-risk.

Abyss to Mountain Top: 1999-2005

In the late 90s, funding was waning. and MDC staffing and programming was reduced as Bob Vint left the MDC in 1999, and Catherine Thatcher Brunson became our third executive director.  At this time relationships with the MDC’s traditional supporters in the community were strained. Some of the MDC’s major institutional supporters had slipped away. Because the MDC Board had not been as actively involved in MDC projects, working to maintain community support or building broad-based financial support in recent years, it fell to the new executive director to pull the MDC out of the ditch.  Not one to sit still, she began at once to network locally and nationally in the drug abuse prevention field as she educated herself about a new field.  There was a serious question at that time whether or not the resources existed to allow the MDC to continue.  Thanks to a large extent to Catherine Brunson’s determination, networking skills and ability to obtain financial support, the MDC not only survived, but now thrives with new and innovative programs that have received national recognition.  City and county funding covers only a small part of our budget, however the MDC sees its services to the community as services provided by our city and county on whose behalf we operate.  The MDC is committed to providing as many resources as possible to improve our community at no charge to the public to reach the most people and have an enduring impact on lives.  A detailed list of all MDC activities would be too long to list, but highlights from the last 5 years are as follows:

In 2000 after a few months of teetering on the edge of the abyss, the ship began to steady itself, and in 2000 the MDC was one of 11 sites nationwide selected for the Demand Treatment grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. This grant allowed the MDC to move forward with developing public awareness and understanding of substance abuse issues.

In 2001 the MDC received a Drug-Free Communities support grant, which allowed the MDC to expand our community outreach to provide resources at no cost, such as the Pathway’s Resource Manual, a desktop reference guide for public access to treatment, intervention, outreach and prevention. That same year our executive director was able to convince Knox County to provide badly needed up-to-date technology and software at the MDC.  With two major grants in two years, the MDC returned to a solid fiscal foundation.

The MDC continues to provide an annual “Community StatsBook” with statistical information about substance abuse in Knox County. This resource serves as an evaluation tool to measure impact and to justify the need in our community for state and federal funding to improve our community services.

The MDC conducted a Physician Symposium to train general practitioners on mental health and substance abuse. The MDC also coordinated training for all residents of the UT Medical Center to assist numerous physicians in identifying substance abuse among teens and adults at earlier, rather than later, stages of addiction. The training for teachers, physicians, law enforcement, treatment and prevention professionals and businesses (Drug-Free Workplace) is on-going.  Our awareness and prevention programming aimed at middle and high schoolers has been proven highly effective by independent evaluators.

In the last 3 years the MDC has been recognized as a national leader among community prevention and awareness agencies. Executive Director Catherine Brunson is called on regularly by federal anti-drug agencies to advise, train and mentor communities around the country on how to make community coalitions work, to speak at national conventions and to provide advice to federal officials.  This recognition has directly resulted in funding for the MDC. Networking at the highest levels has allowed the MDC to bring in the top experts in the country to provide training and assist in planning and executing the best possible prevention and awareness for this community.  The MDC was the only local agency recognized at the 2003 White House Drug-Free Community Conference in Washington and has been highlighted three times in the Community Anti-Drug Coalition’s national publication.

The MDC maintains a small staff and budget, but its staff has written, produced and directed the “Prevention Theatre” dramas.  These dramas, now in their fourth year, have been aimed at inhalants, bullying, prescription drug abuse, suicide, underage drinking and marijuana. Nine-thousand Knox County Middle School students have seen these at no charge each year. The program has gradually been expanded to surrounding counties. Our MDC staff secures sponsors to defray the total cost for this program, and other MDC programs.

In 2003 the MDC focused on Tennessee’s “hidden epidemic” of prescription drug abuse and illegal diversion by sending key state officials to training about Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs.  As a direct result, Tennessee received over $400,000 in funding to develop a computerized prescription monitoring system to support doctors, pharmacists, regulators and law enforcement, and save millions for taxpayers. The MDC did most of the work to get this funding.

Over the past several years the MDC has collaborated with numerous organizations (Knoxville’s Promise, Knox Area Chamber Partnership, Knox County Health Department, Knox County Schools, area businesses (Baptist, Rural Metro, TVA, Pilot, Knox Area Rescue Ministries, Emerald Youth Foundation, the media and others) to promote family involvement with kids (the best drug abuse prevention). The MDC has also made 1,500 referrals to treatment and drug education classes each of the last 4 years. In 2004 and 2005 the MDC’s innovative “Drama Camp” offered a week of intensive theatrical study with life skills training to 25 at-risk youth, ages 14-17, at no cost to their families.

Much in the tradition of our founder Scott Dean, Executive Director Catherine Brunson has regularly approached businesses and government agencies to fund many of the programs the MDC has offered our community.  With the increased programming the MDC provides, this task has become more difficult for one person to do.

The MDC distributes a community newsletter with prevention articles, as well as information about activities, programs and upcoming events.  The free newsletter is available to organizations with an interest in drug abuse treatment and prevention.

Starting in 2004 the MDC determined that the substance abuse problem most impacting kids is underage drinking. The MDC began working on this area of joint concern with a very small grant from the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth and the assistance of the DA’s office in providing for a part-time employee.  The MDC gathered community leaders in the media, law enforcement, treatment, state/local legislators, regulators and public safety advocates to meet with a leading national expert in a session to kick off an underage drinking campaign.  Efforts have been on-going to change community attitudes and improve regulation and enforcement.  The MDC was awarded a CSAP “Too Smart To Start” grant without even applying.  Only 10 sites were to be chosen, but through the MDC’s contacts with CSAP, it became aware of our innovative initiatives and asked the MDC to come in as the 11th site, providing the funding for MDC to continue its programing.

Five years into the new century, the MDC has established itself as a primary resource about substance abuse issues for the media.  The MDC staff and board members appear on TV and are quoted in the paper.  The MDC is cited almost every week in the news media.

As the MDC enters its 20th year, it has never been more successful or more of an asset to Knoxville and Knox County.  However, if the saying is true that “those who forget history are doomed to repeat it,” the MDC cannot continue to fulfill its mission unless the MDC Board and the community provides the necessary support.