KNOXVILLE - The Knox County District Attorney's Office reports 287 people in the county died from a suspected overdose in 2017.
On the last day of the year, the congregation of Buffat Heights Baptist Church and others in the community gathered to remember those lives.
"The lives that were lost, they didn't plan on taking their life. They thought they were going to wake up the next day and they didn't," David Elkins said.
Elkins helps lead Transformation 180 at Buffat Heights. He's gifted at helping people struggling with addiction because he fought the same battle for 32 years.
Elkins says when his 3-year-old son was killed by a drunk driver, he realized he needed God's help to turn his life around. He's dedicated the 15 years since then to helping others overcome addiction.
"We felt that the biggest gap in the addiction recovery process was the spiritual aspect," Elkins said. "If there's no change of the hear, then it's just behavior modification."
The Buffat Heights congregation has felt the toll of America's drug epidemic first hand. In the past year, three people who sat in the pews on Sunday morning died of an overdose.
However, the church has also seen lives transformed.
"I pushed away my family. My 6-year-old son, I pushed him away," Randy Burnett said.
Burnett says he was addicted to drugs for 24 years, but it approaching one year of sobriety.
"I could very well have been one of those candles," Burnett said.
Since beginning joining Transformation 180, Burnett says he's once again become involved in his family's life.
Elkins hopes that through programs like Transformation 180 and other programs that help those in addiction, there won't be a service with 287 candles on the altar at the end of next year.
"Don't ever give up," Elkins said. "I was out there for 32 years. I had grannies and friends praying for me, so don't ever give up on them."
Transformation 180 meets Tuesday evenings at Buffat Heights Baptist Church, located at 2800 Mill Road in Knoxville.
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