NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Overdose deaths in the Music City are on the rise.
New numbers obtained from the Metro Public Health Department show the number of people dying from suspected drug related overdoses is up 12 percent in 2021 over this time last year.
“I don’t know many people who have not had family, friends or others, who have not been impacted in a negative way by opioids or other drug use,” said Dr. Gill Wright III, the Interim Medical Director at the Metro Public Health Department.
Health experts say there’s a direct correlation between overdose deaths and drugs laced with fentanyl.
“We are seeing more and more fentanyl mixed in with things,” said Wright, adding, “It is fairly easy to create, cheap to make, increases the individuals high. The problem is, unlike meds that are prescribed, there’s no quality control, so an addict gets it, and it might be 1% fentanyl or 20% fentanyl.”
Davidson County’s data is sobering. According to health officials, 77% of this year’s suspected overdose deaths involve fentanyl compared to only 20% last year.
“What they are doing, using meds off the street, they have no idea. Does this have a large amount of fentanyl, a small amount, or no fentanyl in it? And that can be fatal for them.”
Metro Health officials also report a 50% increase in the number of syringes they are collecting and disposing of this year over last.
Already this year, Metro Health officials have collected 215,000 syringes. That’s 50% more needles collected this time compared to last year, when 425,600 syringes were collected in all of 2020.
Dr. Wright says some of the needles collected could be used for legitimate purposes.
“Over the last year we’ve seen an increase of 50% of needles we are collecting and disposing of for some of our partners out on the streets who are trying to get people using drugs to use clean needles so that we reduce chances of infectious diseases. So, with that 50% increase, it could be patients that have medications they need to inject, like diabetes medications, and others, but it is probably drug related. And that could be a precursor for what we will see over the next six months to a year.”
Health officials also tell News 2 that the number of overdose related transports is down 9 percent. Experts say there are two reasons for that. First, more addicts are carrying lifesaving Narcan. Second, more people are overdosing and dying and there is no need for transport.
Tennessee’s overdose crisis is evolving in the wake of the COVID-19 Pandemic. First responders and emergency rooms are reporting an increase in overdose cases. News 2 examines the disturbing trend in a special investigation. Read the latest reports here.