Drug Overdose Deaths Increase in Tennessee

Recent figures released show drug-related deaths in the state continue to climb.

The Tennessee Department of Health (TDH) recently released data revealing that 1,631 Tennessee residents died from drug overdoses in 2016. This puts 2016 as having the highest number of fatal drug overdoses in the recorded history of the state. There was a 12% increase in overdose deaths from 2015 to 2016 alone. In 2015, 1,451 Tennesseans died from drug overdoses. TDH Commissioner, John Dreyzehner, MD, MPH reports illicit drugs such as fentanyl are responsible for these dramatic increases.

Fentanyl is an opioid pain medication that is more potent than morphine. It is mainly used for anesthesia or to treat acute and severe pain. Fentanyl and other synthetic opioids seem to be taking a large part in the number of drug overdose deaths in Tennessee. In fact, the number of fentanyl related overdose deaths increased 74%, from 169 to 294, from just 2015 to 2016. In addition to fentanyl:

  • TDH data also reveals that heroin was involved with the deaths of 260 Tennessee residents in 2016. This is a 26% increase from 2015.
  • Buprenorphine, a drug frequently used to help people who are recovering from opioid abuse has also seen a rise in contributing to overdose deaths in Tennessee. TDH discovered the drug associated with 67 deaths in 2016.
  • Methamphetamine related deaths jumped from 57 in 2015 to 101 in 2016

These drugs are reported as involved and not necessarily responsible for these fatalities because, in most drug overdose cases, more than one drug is found in the deceased’s system at the time of death.

While other drugs have played a role in the increase in drug overdose deaths in Tennessee, Tennessee is leading the charge in a multi-state investigation into how opioids are manufactured and distributed across the country. In fact, attorneys in 41 states issued subpoenas to several opioid manufacturing companies seeking information relating to the marketing, selling, and/or distributing of the drugs.