474 opioid-related deaths in Shelby County from 2013-16

(Source: WMC Action News 5)
(Source: WMC Action News 5)

SHELBY COUNTY, TN (WMC) - Shelby County Commissioners got a sobering look at just how many people have died in the county from the opioid epidemic.

"The problem that we have has been long coming," Shelby County Health Department Director Alisa Haushalter said.

She told commissioners Wednesday that reversing the trend of opioid deaths won't change overnight.

Haushalter, along with Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell, brought in new numbers and a map of opioid deaths in the county split up by commission district.

From 2013 to 2016, 474 people died and most of the deaths were concentrated in the heart of the county.

"When you talk about addiction, you're talking about long-term analysis of a problem. You don't just put money into a problem and expect it to be cured," Mayor Luttrell said.

He added that in the coming weeks he will come back to the commission with a funding request for a large-scale campaign to educate residents. The dollar figure isn't public knowledge, but Luttrell said it will be substantial.

"We're still sharpening the pencil on that, so we're not ready to give a dollar figure yet," he said.

The campaign will focus on Shelby County employees, making sure they are aware of the crisis, and outreach to the community to show residents where help is and how they can get it.

A large part of the message will also include instruction on how to prevent access to addictive prescriptions.

"We want people to make sure they count their pills, they keep them locked up, and when they no longer need them, dispose of any they have extra," Haushalter said.

She also said town hall meetings could be held in each commission district.

Luttrell told commissioners they would be involved in the campaign.

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