Opioids are a class of drugs that include prescription painkillers as well as heroin. While some of these medications can be prescribed by a doctor, they can also be highly addictive if used. Because not everyone will be quick to get opioid addiction treatment, use can also come to a wide range of other problems including the risk of overdosing. In Nashville, Tennessee, there have been several problems with these drugs that have only gotten worse recently.
The Long-Standing Nashville Opioid Problem
The opioid crisis in Nashville and Tennessee as a whole has been a problem for the last few decades. From 2005 to 2019, the total number of opiates detected by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Crime Lab’s Forensic Chemistry Unit increased from 3,224 to 7,408. In particular, heroin and fentanyl skyrocketed in numbers during this time in the state.1 In Davidson County where Nashville is located, there was an average of 4.1 opioid overdose deaths per 100,000 people in 2002. By 2018, this number jumped to 27.28 deaths per 100,000 people.2 The next year in 2019, the opioid epidemic in Nashville reached what was at the time record-high levels of a fatal drug overdose. 468 people lost their lives from a drug overdose with the majority involving some type of opioid.3 Unfortunately, problems didn’t stop there.
How The Coronavirus Pandemic Impacted Nashville’s Opioid Epidemic
While the world may have pivoted to focus on the coronavirus pandemic, the opioid epidemic in Nashville raged on. Although problems were already on the rise, the coronavirus pandemic made matters worse and much more desperate. In 2020, Nashville experienced a 32% increase in fatal drug overdoses.4 With 619 deaths, more people in Nashville died of a drug overdose than COVID-19 in 2020.3 An alarming 80% of these drug overdoses showed traces of fentanyl, a powerful opioid that is 100 times more potent than morphine.4 This deadly drug has been growing in popularity in the last several years and is frequently laced with other drugs like heroin or cocaine unbeknownst to the user. One reason people believe the coronavirus pandemic negatively impacted the opioid crisis in Nashville is because it overshadowed it. With the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic, attention and health resources were redirected to address this immediate concern. Lockdowns and social distancing are also believed to have increased mental health problems that are often connected to higher substance use. With more limited access to addiction and mental health care in Nashville, many people struggled to cope on their own.
Combating the Nashville Opioid Epidemic
As opioid-related problems in Nashville increased and life begins to go back to pre-pandemic norms, efforts to combat the Nashville opioid crisis have increased as well. In addition to efforts by the state, local city leaders are doing their part to try to improve these numbers. In January of 2021, the Nashville Fire Department started reaching out to people who had experienced an opioid overdose a few days after they are released from the hospital. The goal of these calls is to try to get these people to see a counselor. Those who agree will be transferred immediately to the Mental Health Cooperative.5 Another resource for the public includes the Tennessee REDLINE, a 24/7 hotline that provides up-to-date information on about addiction as well as referrals for care. The state has also invested in Naloxone, a life-saving opioid overdose-reversing drug. Free kits and training may be available at the Nashville Prevention Partnership website.6 At Vertava Health Midtown Nashville, we want to do our part to help combat the Nashville opioid epidemic. Because substance use and poor mental health are often connected, those in need of help for their mental health should look for care before they are tempted to turn to drugs and alcohol. Our Nashville mental health professionals are here to help you feel and learn healthy ways of coping with life’s stressors. To get started or just to learn more, contact us today.