CHEATHAM COUNTY, Tenn. (WKRN) – While the world wages a battle against the COVID-19 pandemic the other pandemic in this country is drug overdoses, which is still killing American citizens at an alarming rate.
According to Cheatham County health officials, since March 1, around the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, 10 times as many people in Cheatham County have died from drug overdoses than have died from the Coronavirus.
The county almost witnessed its 11th overdose death on May 14. That’s the night that Ashland City police officer, Scotty Hutchens, was first on the scene of an overdose call.
When he arrived at the apartment the victim appeared blue and not breathing on his own.
Officer Hutchens asked two women in the apartment if he had taken anything. One woman said they weren’t sure. The other one was in the victim’s bedroom, already doing chest compressions on the 41-year-old man.
Within a few moments, Hutchens gave the man his first dose of Narcan. On body-cam you hear him radio another arriving officer to bring an airbag, reporting that one dose of Narcan has been administered.
Within minutes, a second dose of Narcan is administered. The officer tells the woman to “keep doing what you are doing” as she massages the man’s chest.
Ashland City Police Chief Kenny Ray tells News 2, “Narcan the miracle drug, it works.”
After more than 5 minutes of no life signs, you hear the man suddenly inhale, and gurgle back to life.
“What you saw was the officers doing their job and saving a life again for an overdose,” said Chief Ray.
Cheatham County currently has no confirmed COVID-19 deaths, but in that same time frame of the pandemic, 10 people have died from suspected drug overdoses. Chief says without Narcan, those deaths would be exponentially higher. “We are seeing more substance abuse, more and more every day.”
Metro Health officials have seen a similar trend in Nashville. This year, 160 people have died of suspected overdose deaths; 107 of those overdose deaths have been registered since March 1. In the same time frame, there have been 50 suspected COVID-19 deaths.
More than twice as many Nashvillians have died from overdose than COVID- 19 since March .
Chief Ray says when COVID-19 ends, overdoses will still be a major problem.
The Ashland City victim was ultimately taken to a local hospital. The chief says it is unclear what substance he may have consumed. Ray says no paraphernalia was discovered and nobody inside the apartment was charged.
According to the Tennessee Department of Health, overdoses are 10 percent higher than the same time last year, particularly in the 25-44 age range. Health officials say it’s possible that the ongoing pandemic could be a trigger for risky behaviors like drug use.
Vanderbilt Medical Center Pain Clinic director, Dr. David Edwards, said this.
I think even though the focus has turned to the immediate problem of COVID, the deaths related to overdose deaths from opioids or other substances haven’t changed as far as I know. Prescription opioids are down because many are not coming to the hospital or clinic, but the number of pills per prescription is way up as prescribers fill medications remotely via telehealth. The high social anxiety is no doubt impacting those with substance use disorders, and I am concerned that some of the “excess deaths” we are seeing now that are undiagnosed, may be substance-related. Our clinics for opioid use disorder are still full, and inpatient treatment is a little harder to access. We too are looking for ways to get people into treatment while finding new ways to maintain social distancing. It is particularly hard on the homeless who are stressed about treatment, living situations, crowding in shelters, and meal shortages.
Stay with News 2 for continuing coverage of the COVID-19 Pandemic.