The increase in overdose deaths comes despite the fact that prescriptions for opioids have been drastically reduced in the state.
Fatal drug overdose rates in Tennessee reached a five-year high in 2018, despite efforts in the state to drastically cut down on opioid prescribing.
Data released by the Tennessee Department of Health showed that 1,818 people died of drug overdoses in the state last year, Fox17 Nashville reported. That gives the state an overall overdose rate of 27.4 per 100,000 deaths. Opioids accounted for 19.9 per 100,000.
The increase in overdose deaths comes despite the fact that prescriptions for opioids have been drastically reduced in the state, from 622,083 in 2014 to 440,473 last year.
Multiple Overdose Waves Have Hit The State In 2019
Still, officials in Tennessee are dealing with an ongoing crisis on the ground. In August, officials in one county reported 16 overdoses within 24 hours. Five of those overdoses were fatal. In May, Memphis police reported that they had responded to 12 overdoses in 24 hours, with seven deaths in seven days throughout Shelby County.
Police Col. Paul Wright said that synthetic opioids were to blame for the deaths.
“If you use drugs that are laced with fentanyl, if you use fentanyl, you will die,” he said.
He urged people not to use drugs alone, and reminded them that they could call for help without fearing repercussions if they were concerned about someone overdosing.
He said, “We’re not about picking up a user. If you are a user, don’t be scared to call for assistance.”
Wright also urged users and their loved ones to carry opioid overdose reversal drugs.
“If you have a family member, or you are a user, of opioids, you need to get trained on Narcan,” he said.
National Overdose Rate Is Declining
Overdose data from 2018 is just beginning to be released, and national data is not yet available. Yet, preliminary data has indicated that the national overdose rate fell about 5% last year, the first time in decades that there has been a decrease in fatal overdoses.
“It looks like there’s a light at the end of the tunnel,” said Dr. Andrew Kolodny, an opioid researcher, told The New York Times.
The progress has been uneven across the country, however. While some areas, like Tennessee, have reported increased overdose rates, others are seeing some progress in the fight against opioid addiction.
In New York City, for example, fatal overdoses dropped 2.6% from 2017 to 2018. That left officialls cautiously optimistic.
“The decrease in drug overdose deaths is promising, but far too many New Yorkers are still dying” New York Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot said, according to NBC News.
Pennsylvania had an impressive 18% decrease in fatal overdoses during 2018. Officials credit increased access to treatment and widespread availability of naloxone for reducing the overdose death rate and the overall overdose rate.