While COVID-19 claimed hundreds of lives in Nashville last year, drug overdoses killed even more people. Fatalities related to drugs spiked by nearly one-third compared to 2019, which was already a record year.
The numbers published this week are preliminary, but the Metro Public Health Department says there were 619 fatal drug overdoses in Nashville last year. That’s up from 468 in 2019.
By comparison, Davidson County still hasn’t reached 619 reported COVID deaths. When the pandemic is under control, public health officials will have to redouble their efforts on drug overdoses, says Trevor Henderson, the Nashville’s director of overdose response and prevention.
“There is a vaccination for COVID. Hopefully we will come out the other side of that sooner rather than later,” he says. “But when we come out from that. This is still here. This is very complicated. There is no vaccine.”
There remains a stigma around the disease of addiction, Henderson says, even years into the opioid epidemic.
The largest age group dying from overdoses are in the prime of their lives, between 25 and 44. Most of the deaths from 2020, roughly 80%, were related to high-powered fentanyl, which is a synthetic opioid that has become a popular street drug that often becomes deadly when it’s mixed with another drug. The user doesn’t know how much they’ve taken.
Henderson says there’s a clear correlation between COVID and fatal overdoses, with the first spike in the month of March and remaining elevated through July. It’s unclear, however, whether the uptick was related to isolation, financial stress or even people using powerful drugs alone rather than with someone else who could call for help.
The health department has mapped overdose deaths and 911 calls for help. The hot spots are in Madison and Antioch. But the biggest increase, jumping 167% from 2019 to 2020, was the 37209 zip code, which includes parts of Sylvan Park, The Nations and the area surrounding Tennessee State University.
Overdose fatalities for the entire state are not yet available for 2020 and likely won’t be until late summer. But they’re expected to set another record, as is the national figure.