1,776 Overdose Deaths in Tennessee Last Year

Deaths related to fentanyl rose significantly. Heroin was associated with the deaths of 311 Tennesseans in 2017, a 20 percent increase over the previous year, but fentanyl was associated with 500 deaths, a 70 percent increase since 2016.

The Tennessee Department of Health announced Aug. 20 that its data show 1,776 Tennesseans died from drug overdoses during 2017, which was the highest annual number of such deaths since reporting began. Prescription opioids are still the most common drugs associated with overdose deaths in Tennessee.

"More Tennesseans died last year from drug overdoses than from automobile crashes. Few of us have escaped a direct impact of this crisis in experiencing the tragic death of a family member, loved one, or friend," said TDH Commissioner Dr. John Dreyzehner, M.D., MPH. "The good news is this has spurred us collectively to more action than ever before and, while prescription drugs still account for the majority of deaths, there is new hope on the horizon in many areas. Prevention works, stigma is decreasing, treatment is effective, and people get better."

The data show almost three-fourths of drug overdose deaths in Tennessee in 2017 were associated with opioids. There were 1,268 overdose deaths associated with all opioids; of those, 644 were associated with prescription opioids for pain, which include drugs such as hydrocodone, oxycodone, morphine, and codeine. Prescription opioids for pain were associated with more overdose deaths in 2017 than any other group of drugs.

"Our analysis of Tennessee drug overdose deaths underscores the need for our aggressive efforts led by Governor Bill Haslam to end the opioid crisis in our state by focusing on prevention, treatment, and law enforcement," Dreyzehner said. "Legislation to place reasonable limits and appropriate exceptions to the supply of prescription opioids to new patients, provide additional treatment resources for those struggling with substance abuse, and implement new teaching and training protocols for health care providers will make a positive difference in the lives of Tennesseans."

Deaths related to fentanyl, which is similar to heroin but much more potent and dangerous, rose significantly. Heroin was associated with the deaths of 311 Tennesseans in 2017, a 20 percent increase over the previous year, but fentanyl was associated with 500 deaths, a 70 percent increase since 2016. TDH Chief Medical Officer Dr. David Reagan, M.D., Ph.D., said, "We are alarmed by the growing number of Tennesseans dying from drug overdoses, especially involving fentanyl. We must place additional focus on prevention of substance abuse."

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