Tennessee drug overdose deaths increased 15% in 2019

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — TriStar Skyline Medical Center continues to see an abundance of patients struggling with drug addictions.

“There’s been no slowdown in the number of overdoses that are coming in to see us in the ER, unfortunately,” Chief of Emergency Dr. Marshall Hall said.

Dr. Hall said he wasn’t surprised by new numbers released by the Tennessee Department of Health, which shows a 15% increase year-to-year in the number of people dying of drug overdoses in Tennessee.

“Overdoses continue to happen on a daily basis and we may have even seen a slight increase over the last few months, to be honest,” Dr. Hall said.

In 2019, 2,089 Tennesseans died of drug overdoses. It’s an especially problematic trend seen in men, who were nearly two times as likely to die compared to females.

“There are clearly people in their teens who have overdosed on opioids, there’s no doubt about that,” Hall said. “And there are clearly people in their 80s that overdose on opioids. But, as a rule, it’s that 25-55 age group that we’re really seeing it in.”

The data also shows those who died of an overdose were more likely to be white, although overdose deaths involving Black Tennesseans increased 66% last year. A variety of drugs are to blame.

Dr. Reid Finlayson specializes in psychiatry and addiction medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. He said street drugs, cut with agents like fentanyl, have contributed to the growing numbers.

“What I try to tell my patients is you have no idea what you’re taking,” Dr. Finlayson said.

The department of health’s report shows methamphetamine, or meth, is also experiencing a resurgence. New information, Dr. Finlayson said, is vital to reversing the trend and cracking the stigma surrounding addiction.

“I think it’s going to take a huge educational input to change people’s minds about it and see them as suffering and try to offer them help,” Dr. Finlayson said.

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