Non-prescription opioid overdose cases on the rise in Tennessee

Tennessee's Overdose Crisis

Tennessee’s Overdose Crisis

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Drug overdose deaths continue to rise in Tennessee. The state department of health’s most recent report showed a 44 percent increase over four years.

“I’m an individual in long-term recovery from substance use disorder and I have a mental health diagnosis as well, and to be able to find a purpose and a place in this life is huge,” said Jaime Harper.

Harper works as the Regional Faith-Based Community Coordinator helping Middle Tennessee houses of faith join the fight against substance abuse.

Of the 6.6 million Tennesseans, 85% are affiliated with one of the state’s 11,500 houses of faith. Many of which are now houses of hope for the state’s overdose crisis through the Faith Based Initiative.

The most recent report from the department of health shows prescription overdoses are declining, but non-prescription opioid overdoses continue to climb.

“What we’re seeing is an increase in overdoses, opioids specifically, related to illicit substances, potentially fentanyl, heroin or a mix, or other substances,” said Anthony Jackson, Jr., Director of Prevention and Early Intervention Services in the Division of Substance Abuse Services. “An evolution has happened in that it’s not solely opioids. It’s not solely prescription opioids, now it is a transition to stimulants and illicit opioids more than it has been in the past.”

Related: Read the TN Overdose Report 2020

More than 1,800 people died from an overdose in 2018, which is about five people every single day.

So who are the people behind these numbers? The report states the elevations are regardless of race or sex but the highest rate of overdoses is among white males. For all opioid overdose deaths, people 35 to 44-years-old and 25 to 34-years-old had the highest rates of death in 2018, with the latter having a significant increase that year.

Still, experts say it’s a problem that does not discriminate. “There was a situation that kind of brought up the desire for me to change and that was whenever I was told I was going to be a father,” Harper recalled.

He’s now using his own experience to help educate the faith community on how to help other people who’ve walked in his shoes.

“Just that education to allow a safe place can provide a space for that individual to say hey I need help.”

There are 60 Certified Recovery Congregations in Nashville alone, 276 in Middle Tennessee, and over 660 across the state. Anyone needing help with substance abuse treatment can call or text the Tennessee Redline at 1-800-889-9789.


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.        

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