NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Metro Public Health officials are investigating a white powder they believe was to blame for a deadly 24-hour spike in fatal overdoses, the latest example of the uphill battle Metro is facing when it comes to drug overdoses. 

So far this year, 360 people have lost their lives to drug overdoses in Metro Nashville, according to Metro Public Health’s most recent surveillance update. That’s an 11% increase compared to this time last year.  

“It really symbolizes the deadlier phase of the drug overdose epidemic that we’re currently observing,” said Josh Love with Metro Public Health’s Overdose Response and Reduction Program.  

What’s making the battle against overdoses so difficult? Health officials say fentanyl is largely to blame, which was detected in 75% of Metro’s drug overdoses so far this year.  

“It’s just really shifted things from the previous prescription opioid, heroin phases of the epidemic,” Love said. “So knowing that, it’s just [that] we’re in a deadlier phase of the epidemic.” 

Drug overdoses have increased each year for the last five years in Davidson County, a trend Love said the medical examiner’s office predicted years ago.  

“You know, the synthetic opioid, i.e. fentanyl wave began kind of after 2010. Here locally, it was brought to our attention by the Davidson County Medical Examiner. A staff member who works there, who we work really closely with, brought it to our radar how this was going to take over and it has. Looking at toxicology reports since 2016, it was present in about 20% on those toxicology reports. Fast forward to now, where [it’s] about three quarters or 75%. It’s been a very drastic change.” 

Now the health department is working to warn the public when and where they see upticks in overdoses. Most recently, on July 17 residents who signed up for the SPIKE text notifications were alerted to a deadly white substance circulating through northeast Davidson County. MPHD reported a significant increase in fatal overdoses over a 24-hours span. The department also sent out a warning on Twitter with resources.  

“I think the more you inform the public of what to be on the lookout for, at least so they have a general understanding of what’s going on and how active this epidemic is, then perhaps that can somewhere down the line save lives, which is what’s most important,” Love said.  

Love said he hopes the new notification system will encourage relatives to check on loved ones during an overdose spike.  

For more information or to sign up for notifications, click here.