Drug overdose deaths have hit an all-time high in Tennessee, despite a focus in recent years on preventing pain pill abuse. Opioids — including heroin — are to blame for nearly three-quarters of the fatalities.
Last year, 1,451 people died from an overdose. While these stats released this week are a record, Tennessee Health Commissioner John Dreyzehner says he knows it represents the tip of a giant iceberg.
“For every one overdose death, there are dozens of near misses,” he says in a video statement. “There are dozens of people that end up in emergency departments or elsewhere having taken a drug that could end their lives.”
Dreyzehner says the state has made progress reducing the number of powerful narcotics that are legally prescribed. The overdose antidote naloxone is also more readily available than it used to be. But he says there are still many drug dealers preying on addicts, sometimes by selling them dangerous counterfeit pills.
The highest per-capita overdose deaths are in East Tennessee. Knoxville — which is two-thirds the size of Nashville — had almost the same number of fatalities last year, with 153.