A Spike in Overdose Deaths in Nashville May Be Tied to Fentanyl, Health Officials Warn

A spike in recent fatal overdoses could be tied to fentanyl-laced drugs in Davidson County, public safety officials have warned

Between May 30 and June 10, the Davidson County Medical Examiner's office has investigated at least 10 deaths believed to be fatal drug overdoses, according to Metro Public Health.

Of those deaths, half have been associated with an unknown white or brown powder .

"Tox screens are pending, but we know drug dealers are mixing heroin and cocaine with cheaper and deadly fentanyl," the Metro Nashville Police Department said in a Twitter post.

In 2018, the medical examiner's office reported 344 drug-related overdoses in the county, or just less than one per day. Since May 31, there have been on average more than 1.5 likely overdose deaths per day, according to the data from Metro Health.

While the exact causes of the deaths have not been confirmed, MNPD and Metro Health hope to warn users and the public about the growing threat.

How deadly is fentanyl in Nashville?

Pharmaceutical fentanyl is a synthetic opioid pain reliever, approved for treating severe pain, typically advanced cancer pain, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine.

Most recent cases of fentanyl-related overdoses and death are from illegally-made fentanyl, which is often mixed into heroin or cocaine, sometimes without the users knowledge, the CDC said.

Statewide, 1,776 Tennesseans died in drug overdoses in 2017, up from 1,631 the prior year, according data released by the Tennessee Department of Health last year. It marks at least the sixth year in a row that the death toll rose.

In 2017, 105 people in Nashville suffered fatal overdoses with fentanyl in their bloodstream – four more than the overdose total for heroin – according to data released last May by city police and the Metro Public Health Department.

Although the margin between the death tolls is small, officials are most concerned about the swift rise of the fentanyl, which has spread through the city faster than heroin ever did.

Fentanyl-related overdoses were nearly unheard of in Nashville only a few years ago, but deaths rose 250 percent in 2015, then 54 percent in 2016, and 75 percent in 2017.

How to help during an overdose

If there is an immediate health crisis, residents are encouraged to call 911 or go to the emergency room.

In 2014, Tennessee passed the Good Samaritan Law, allowing residents to become trained in the use of Naxolone or Narcan, a medicine that can help sustain the life of someone overdosing until more complete medical care is available.

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© 2016 by Tennessee Overdose Prevention.

If they're still alive, there's hope.