Tennessee Drug Overdoses Hit Record Highs

Michelle Rosenker

July 19, 2019

Tennessee is often hailed as one of the greatest states in the South due to its rich musical history, sprawling acres of land, and a slow-paced lifestyle that is laid back and desirably simple. While this state is all of those things and much more, it is also a state that is riddled with drug abuse, addiction, and overdoses. 

As reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 2018 was the deadliest year ever for drug overdoses in Tennessee. A whopping 1,837 people suffered fatal overdoses, and despite not being confirmed through toxicology reports, an estimated 89 people can be added to that total. Even without those 89 people included in the final total of drug overdoses in Tennessee, the state still saw a 3% increase in overdoses from the year before. The CDC did not include what types of drugs caused these overdoses, but state experts in Tennessee suspect that the majority of them were linked to opioids and methamphetamine, both of which are extremely popular within the state and readily available, despite all efforts to stop the sales of these drugs. 

Opioids and Meth in Tennessee

For more than a decade, prescription opioids like OxyContin and hydrocodone have gripped the people of Tennessee. Around the turn of the century, prescription painkillers were claiming the lives of 11.1 deaths per 100,000 Tennesseans. Between 2000 and today, those numbers have climbed, however in 2017, they dropped to 9.6 deaths per 100,000 citizens. 

Even though prescription opioid overdose rates have declined in Tennessee, the rate at which painkillers are being prescribed is astounding. For every 100 people in the state, 94.4 prescriptions are written, meaning that the flow of these medications is still in full effect despite efforts to curb accessibility to them. One of the biggest reasons for that is the focus of a statewide lawsuit, which alleges that major pharmaceutical company Endo consistently and aggressively pushed the opioid-based medication Opana ER on providers in the area despite knowing the risks the medication could pose to the public. As a result of that action, several medical facilities starting operating like pill mills, however many of them have been shut down. Unfortunately, some are still in operation, but with the eye of the state watching, this type of practice is set to decrease dramatically. 

Tennessee, like nearly all of the other states in the country, is also experiencing an influx of fentanyl in their communities. This synthetic opioid is so incredibly potent that even just a dose of a mere two milligrams can kill. A large portion of opioid users do not seek fentanyl for everyday use because of how strong it is, however that does not mean that they are not consuming it. Opioids, cocaine, and meth are often cut with fentanyl in an effort to produce a stronger high, and there is no way of knowing how much fentanyl is in these drugs (or if there is any at all). While there are test strips that can help determine what is in a drug, they are not widely available or accessible to the public in Tennessee. It is suspected that more than half of drug overdoses involving opioids are caused by fentanyl. 

Prescription opioids and synthetic opioids like fentanyl are certainly not the only drugs claiming the lives of Tennessee citizens. Methamphetamine, or meth, is hugely popular in the South, as countless meth labs exist and produce as much meth as possible. Meth is essentially poison, as it is made with acetone, battery fluid, ammonia, and other household products. It is highly addictive and erodes away at one’s brain and other vital organs when abused.  Those who are severely addicted to meth often do not live long, as the way in which this drug impacts the body makes survival slim. Add into this the risk of fentanyl being laced into meth and the danger of fatal overdose increases dramatically. 

drug overdose

Will Treatment be the Answer?

If you ask anyone in the field of substance use disorders and recovery, they will tell you that the only way to treat addiction is through professional treatment. One of the biggest concerns in the state of Tennessee is that there are not enough treatment resources accessible to those who need help the most. 

Dr. Howard Taylor, lab director for American Addiction Centers in Brentwood, says that his concern is that “Tennessee is falling behind our neighbors and the rest of the country in terms of what we are offering people for treatment.” When it comes to the treatment approach, only time will be able to tell if Tennessee can reach their citizens in time to effect positive, life-saving change.

Get Professional Help for Addiction Today

If you or a loved one are in Tennessee and struggling with addiction, JourneyPure’s Clarksville intensive outpatient clinic can help. Our experienced staff use a variety of therapy and evidence-based treatments so that you can recover not only from addiction but from the underlying issues as well. Call us today for a private consultation to learn more about your treatment options.