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After peaking in May 2020 with 50 drug overdose deaths in Shelby County, this number has dropped down to below 40 in February of 2021. These 2021 monthly numbers are slowly getting closer to pre-pandemic overdose levels like the just over 30 overdose deaths in December of 2019.1

While it is a small step in the right direction, Shelby County and the Memphis area still have a long way to go to make real improvements. In the entire year of 2012, there were only 79 opioid overdose deaths in Shelby County. Since that time, the number has continued to increase each year.2

Tennessee & Shelby County Overdoses & The Coronavirus Pandemic

The Memphis area is not alone, this trend has been seen across Tennessee with not only the ongoing opioid pandemic but also the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

A look at preliminary data on drug overdose deaths in Tennessee found that 2020 was the deadliest year so far in the state’s history. Opioid overdose deaths in particular increased by 22% from 2019 to 2020.3 Many people attribute the drastic increase in overdoses in Shelby County and Tennessee to the many negative secondary effects of the coronavirus pandemic, especially for those already in recovery.

In a survey of American adults in recovery, 20% reported more difficulty managing their addiction during the pandemic and 52% cited social isolation from social distancing as the number one reason why. Even more alarming, 39% said the coronavirus pandemic made them give up on finding treatment.4 So, while there was an increased need for addiction treatment in Shelby County and Tennessee as a whole, fewer people were inclined to get the care they need.

While the coronavirus pandemic may have hurt people’s mental health and increased substance abuse, it has also forced many care providers to adapt. Virtual addiction care became not just convenient but also in many cases, necessary. Many recovery groups also moved their meetings online and treatment centers updated their programming to online platforms. These changes made it easier for people to access care during the coronavirus pandemic but are also likely to become more permanent care options even after the pandemic is over. These more accessible treatment and support programs could help decrease Shelby County overdoses in the near future as people continue to cope with the lingering impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

If you or someone you care about is in need of help, our East Memphis addiction specialists are here for you. With flexible programming including virtual care, you could take the first step to lasting recovery today. Schedule your first appointment today.



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