Tennessee and Arkansas drug overdose deaths expected to rise this year

TN drug overdose death rate rises

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Experts say fentanyl is linked to a predicted increase in drug overdose deaths in the state of Tennessee -- the opposite of much of the rest of the U.S. where death rates are dropping.

Tennessee’s Department of Heath reports an 800-percent increase in the number of overdose deaths in the state involving fentanyl between 2013 to 2017.

The highly potent synthetic opioid is 80 to 100 times stronger than morphine, according to the Drug Enforcement Agency.

“Mainly what we are seeing as far as the overdose deaths, fentanyl is involved. The average amount of substances in a person’s system when they overdose is six. And the top three are cocaine, crystal meth and fentanyl,” said Josh Weil, a Regional Overdose Prevention Specialist for Memphis Area Prevention Coalition.

Predictions from the CDC list Tennessee and Arkansas as two of 17 states expected to see an increase in deadly overdoses for 2019. Weil says fentanyl is to blame in the Memphis/Shelby County area for those statistics.

“Because it’s so potent you don’t know, you know it’s not being mixed by chemists in a laboratory. It’s being fixed up by the people who are dealing it so you don’t know when you are going to get a spot that has more fentanyl in it,” said Weil.

Using a new grant, treatment centers across the city are coming together using medication assisted treatment. Drugs are given out to users to help kick the addiction at no cost.

Similar programs are in place in states that have seen drops in overdose deaths. Those programs are funded through expanded Medicaid that covers the cost of the treatment.

“That’s part of the reason I think why we are seeing some states drop, now we have the option to do that,” said Weil.

According to experts, the people most at risk of overdose are users who have stopped using for a short period of time and then begin to use again.

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