Opioid-related emergencies increase 500% in 4 years in Shelby County

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Shelby County is dealing with a staggering increase in opioid misuse.

New statistics from Shelby County Commission shows there were 175 opioid-related emergency department visits in 2014.

In 2017, that number increased to 901.

Commission also presented a map showing a huge portion of Shelby County is a significant hot spot for opioid use.

"It's really affecting everyone and it's increasing at a dramatic rate," said Jennifer Kmet, senior epidemiologist at Shelby County Health Department.

SCHD said most of the overdose deaths in the county occur inside Memphis city limits. The number for 2017 is expected to be around 200.

"This is just another disease issue and this is a disease that is draining medical resources but more importantly than draining resources it is draining a generation from us," said Dr. Mark Castellaw with Baptist Medical Group.

Dr. Castellaw said evidence of that comes from his own experience with some of his patients, middle-aged Mid-Southerners who have lost children to the opioid epidemic.

A closer look at four years of county emergency department visits related to opioids shows the largest portion, almost 700, from people ages 25 to 34.

While whites have the highest proportion of opioid-related deaths, the numbers are increasing more dramatically in the black community.

"The numbers give us confirmation that not only is the problem existent and severe but it is getting worse on an exponential basis," Shelby County Commission Chairwoman Heidi Shafer said.

The commission has its own opioid task force which is meeting to develop programs and initiatives to fight the epidemic. The health department is also rolling out a new public awareness campaign.

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam has also committed $30 million in state and federal funds for prevention and treatment efforts in the upcoming year.

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