1,451 Tennesseans died from drug overdoses in 2015

NASHVILLE (WATE) – Around 1,451 people died from drug overdoses in Tennessee in 2015, according to the Tennessee Department of Health.

The department says the death toll is the highest among overdoses in five-years. In the past five years, 6,036 people lost their lives. The department says the amount is equal to every person dying on 40 mid-size jet planes.

“This is a disease every one of us is vulnerable to, not a moral failing. Not one of these victims deserved this, and the tragedy of lives lost to overdoses becomes even more painful knowing these deaths can be prevented and are the horrible tip of the overdose iceberg,” said TDH Commissioner John Dreyzehner. “We’ve made progress in reducing the amount of powerful narcotics legally dispensed and in making the overdose antidote naloxone more readily available, but there are still many people battling substance use disorders without seeking professional help and many criminals willing to sell extremely dangerous pills, counterfeit pills and gray and illegal substances.”

Around 72 percent of the drug overdose deaths in 2015 involved opioids. Many of the deaths were accidental and 30 percent of the opioid-related deaths included the use of benzodiazepine medications. There were 174 deaths involving fentanyl in 2015, a rise from 69 in 2014. Also, the department saw a rise in heroin-related deaths from 147 in 2014 to 205 in 2015.

Related: Loudon County Sheriff cracking down on opioid abuse

“The problem of prescription drug abuse should trouble anyone who cares about the future of our state,” said Mark Gwyn, director of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. “Those who are addicted often put themselves in even more danger by buying pills from dealers on the street, without knowing for sure what they contain. Some of those pills are counterfeit, full of dangerous substances like fentanyl, which has certainly contributed to the recent increase in overdose deaths in Tennessee. It can’t be said strongly enough: Turning to the streets to find your next fix isn’t the answer, and it might very well cost you your life.”

The department did not release information on counties with less than one dozen deaths in order to protect the victims’ identities. Only eight counties had no drug overdose deaths that were documented: Haywood, Lake, Lauderdale, Perry, Pickett, Trousdale and Van Buren. Sixty-two counties had five or more deaths. Here are some of the death tolls by counties:

  • Knox: 153
  • Anderson: 26
  • Blount: 33
  • Bradley: 20
  • Campbell: 21
  • Carter: 12
  • Cheatham: 16
  • Claiborne: 12
  • Coffee: 14
  • Davidson: 157
  • Dickson: 18
  • Franklin: 13
  • Hamblen: 17
  • Hamilton: 59
  • Hawkins: 16
  • Maury: 15
  • Monroe: 12
  • Montgomery: 36
  • Putnam: 15
  • Robertson: 15
  • Rutherford: 56
  • Sevier: 28
  • Shelby: 188
  • Sullivan: 35
  • Sumner: 24
  • Tipton: 15
  • Washington: 25
  • Wilson: 37

“This is a massive, alarming and ongoing rate of preventable death that stays too much in the shadows,” Department of Safety and Homeland Security Commissioner David W. Purkey said. “Our state is struggling with overdose deaths, and we realize the urgency of working even closer with our colleagues on education and treatment in an effort to stop this epidemic. I urge our citizens to be careful and mindful about the risks associated with these dangerous drugs. We’ve got to stop this alarming fatality trend. I’ll continue to work with Dr. Dreyzehner, TBI Director Mark Gwyn and Commissioner Marie Williams on strategies to overcome these shocking deaths.”

For information on treatment services, visit www.tn.gov/behavioral-health/section/substance-abuse-services.

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