Tennessee Department of Health data released Monday showed 1,776 Tennesseans died from drug overdoses in 2017, the highest one-year number recorded since reporting began.
“More Tennesseans died last year from drug overdoses than from automobile crashes. Few of us have escaped a direct impact of this crisis in experiencing the tragic death of a family member, loved one or friend,” Tennessee Department of Health Commissioner John Dreyzehner said in a press release announcing the report.
“The good news is this has spurred us collectively to more action than ever before, and while prescription drugs still account for the majority of deaths, there is new hope on the horizon in many areas. Prevention works, stigma is decreasing, treatment is effective and people get better.”
Washington County reported 33 drug overdose deaths in 2017, four fewer than the 37 overdose deaths reported the year before, but higher than the 30 reported in 2015.
Of those 33 deaths, the state classified 24 as “opioid overdose deaths,” which is six fewer than the 30 reported in 2016. Seven people in Washington County died of a fentanyl overdose in 2017, while one died from a heroin overdose.
Carter and Unicoi counties saw slight increases in overdose deaths. In Carter County, total drug overdose deaths totaled 21 compared to the 19 reported in 2016. Opioids were associated with 16 of those deaths.
Unicoi County reported 10 overdose deaths, seven of which stemmed from opioids, in 2017. Two people died of fentanyl overdoses in Unicoi County in 2017, while one died of a heroin overdose.
Sullivan County once again led the Tri-Cities with 42 drug overdose deaths, 29 of which were opioid-related.
Statewide, prescription opioids remain the most common drugs associated with overdose deaths, the Tennessee Department of Health report determined. Nearly three-fourths of all drug overdose deaths in Tennessee, 1,268 to be exact, were associated with opioids.
Of those, 644 were associated with prescription opioids for pain, which include drugs such as hydrocodone, oxycodone, morphine and codeine.
“Our analysis of Tennessee drug overdose deaths underscores the need for our aggressive efforts led by Gov. Bill Haslam to end the opioid crisis in our state by focusing on prevention, treatment and law enforcement,” Dreyzehner said.
“Legislation to place reasonable limits and appropriate exceptions to the supply of prescription opioids to new patients, provide additional treatment resources for those struggling with substance abuse and implement new teaching and training protocols for health care providers will make a positive difference in the lives of Tennesseans.”
State health officials determined deaths related to “street” drugs obtained without a prescription were a key driver in the increase of overdose deaths in 2017, the press release stated.
Fentanyl was associated with 500 deaths in 2017, a startling 70 percent increase compared to 2016, while heroin overdose deaths jumped 20 percent with 311 deaths.
Fentanyl is an extremely potent opioid that can be made either legally or illegally. Fentanyl is often used to “cut” or mix with other drugs, meaning users usually have no way to know if its included in a drug obtained illegally.
“You can’t know what you’re getting when you buy drugs on the street, and that makes them extremely dangerous,” Tennessee Department of Health Chief Medical Officer Dr. David Reagan said.
“We are alarmed by the growing number of Tennesseans dying from drug overdoses, especially involving fentanyl. We must place additional focus on prevention of substance abuse.”
TBI Director David Rausch said the data proves the danger is real, immediate and continuing to grow.
“That’s why we would urge anyone with a substance abuse problem, or anyone who knows someone who is struggling, to get help. Doing so may very well save a life,” Rausch said, while adding that his department will remain committed to disrupting the supply of fentanyl and other dangerous drugs.
Tennessee Department of Health
Overdose Deaths in 2017
||Opioid Overdose Deaths
||Heroin Overdose Deaths
||Fentanyl Overdose Deaths
||Total Drug Overdose Deaths