The Opioid Epidemic in Tennessee

Between the 1990s and today, the opioid epidemic has exploded in the United States. Each day, 128 people in the United States die of an opioid overdose. Additionally, the Center for Disease Control in the US estimated that the economic burden of the opioid crisis is about $78.5 billion a year. That figure includes criminal justice (police) involvement, addiction treatment, lost productivity, and healthcare costs.

Clearly, the opioid epidemic is incredibly serious. We want to help you better understand what opioids are and why they are so dangerous. Opioids are a type of drug that includes pain relievers available through prescription, the illegal drug heroin, and synthetic substance like fentanyl. Each of these types of opioids is dangerous. However, the increased prescribing and use of opioids such as oxycodone (OxyContin®), hydrocodone (Vicodin®), codeine, morphine, and many others have led to the opioid crisis.

Unfortunately, Tennessee is a significant part of the larger-scale crisis throughout the country. Medical providers wrote 81.8 opioid prescriptions for every 100 patients in 2018. That same year, 1,307 Tennesseans died of an overdose death involving opioids. That is a rate of 19.9 deaths. Further, deaths that involved involving synthetic opioids went from 590, a rate of 9.3, to 827, a rate of 12.8, in 2017. Along with prescription opioid problems, heroin also causes opioid-related deaths. From 2017 to 2018, 369 Tennesseans died of heroin overdoses.

The Opioid Crisis Through the Years

The opioid epidemic is not a new issue. Many factors contributed to the rise of opioid consumption in the United States. However, pharmaceutical companies led to the accessibility of opioids. During the late 1990s, healthcare providers began prescribing opioids more frequently. This happened because pharmaceutical companies convinced the medical community that prescription opioids were not addictive. Consequently, more patients received opioids as pain relievers through prescription medications. Therefore, people soon became addicted to opioids. Subsequently, research proved that the medications are, in fact, highly addictive.

As a result, more than 47,000 people living in the United States died of an opioid overdose in 2017. Also in 2017, approximately 1.7 million people in the US suffered from opioid addictions. Additionally, about 652,000 people in the US suffered from an addiction to heroin. Throughout the United States, people felt the individual and structural disruption caused by the opioid crisis. Opioid swept through schools and workplaces alike. People who hadn’t been interested in drug use previously suddenly found themselves in the grips of addiction.

Falling Rates of Opioid-Related Overdose

Thankfully, however, research suggests that opioid addictions are less frequent than they had been. Compared to the 70,237 deaths caused by drug overdose in 2017, 67,367 people died of a drug overdose in 2018. That means 2018 brought 4.1% fewer drug overdose deaths than in 2017. Further, of the overdose deaths in 2018, opioids caused 46,802 deaths. Therefore, opioids caused about 70% of all overdose deaths in 2018.

In Tennessee, the opioid addiction rate has gone down as well. For example, 739 Tennesseans died of prescription opioid overdose in 2016. In 2018, however, 550 people died of prescription opioid overdose in 2018. Therefore, the rate went from 11.1 to a rate of 8.2. The opioid crisis in Tennessee and throughout the US has taken many lives. However, research shows that opioid prescriptions are taking fewer lives than they were before. If you believe you or someone you love is suffering from opioid addiction, we can help. Please contact us at 901-403-7925.

Special Topics on the Opioid Crisis

Now that you understand more about how the opioid crisis began and its danger to Tennessean, we want to help you understand the nuances of the issue. For example, we want to help you understand how Tennessee’s opioid crisis compares to that of other states. Also, we want to inform you of how the use of opioids has led to HIV cases. Further, we want you to learn more about treatment. Not only do we want you to understand the national response to the opioid crisis. We also want to help you learn about Tennessee’s plans to combat the opioid crisis. These plans are in effect both statewide and nationally. Finally, we want you to learn about different treatment options for those suffering from opioid addictions.

How Tennessee Compares to Other States

Compared to other states, Tennessee has a much higher rate of opioid addictions. This has a great deal to do with the fact that medical providers wrote 81.8 opioid prescriptions for every 100 patients in 2018. Not only is that a rate of 51.4 prescriptions, but that also gives Tennessee the third-highest prescribing rate in the US. Further, Tennessee has a rate of 19.9 opioid-involved overdose deaths per 100,000 people. Therefore, Tennessee has the thirteenth-highest rate of opioid-involved overdose death. West Virginia, Maryland, and New Hampshire have the three highest rates of opioid-involved overdose deaths. Respectively, these states’ death rates are 42.4, 33.7, and 33.1. Ultimately, Tennessee is a significant part of the opioid problem in the US.

Opioids and HIV

One unexpected result of the opioid crisis is the rising cases of HIV. HIV is a virus that attacks cells that helps bodies fight infection. HIV spreads through certain bodily fluids. Most commonly, HIV spreads through unprotected sexual intercourse. Another common way to spread HIV is by sharing injection drug equipment. In 2017, 731 Tennesseans were newly diagnosed with HIV. Therefore, the rate of Tennessee diagnoses was 13.0 out of all US diagnoses of the year. That same year, either male-to-male sexual contact or injection drug use (IDU) caused 7% of new male HIV cases. For women, IDU caused 11.3% of new HIV cases. Comparatively, 16,612 Tennesseans were living with HIV in 2017. That’s a rate of 295. For those people, either IDU or male-to-male sexual contact caused 10.7% of cases. For women, IDU caused 13% of HIV cases.

National Response to the Opioid Crisis

Fortunately, the federal government has responded to the opioid crisis on a national level. The US Department of Health and Human Services created a list of five priorities to focus on. First, HHS strives to improve access to recovery services and addiction treatment. Second, HHS promotes using overdose-reversing drugs. For example, naloxone is one effective drug that reverses the effects of opioid overdoses. Third, the HHS wants to help people understand the opioid crisis better by providing public health surveillance. Fourth, HHS provides research on addiction. Fifth and finally, the HHS works to advance better practices for pain management.

Further, at the 2018 National Rx Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit, the director of the National Institute of Health (NIS) announced the beginning of a new initiative. The initiative HEAL stands for Helping to End Addiction Long-Term. Further, the goal of HEAL is to provide scientific solutions to better understand and stop the opioid epidemic. In April 2018 at the National Rx Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit, NIH Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., announced the launch of the HEAL (Helping to End Addiction Long-term) Initiative, an aggressive, trans-agency effort to speed scientific solutions to stem the national opioid public health crisis.

Also, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) provided new guidelines for prescribing opioids. To begin, they recommend that clinicians don’t prescribe benzodiazepines with opioids. Additionally, opioids and benzodiazepines now have FDA warnings on the prescription label. Although these safeguards won’t stop people from becoming addicted to opioids, the safeguards can help people prevent situations where addictions can form.

Tennessee’s Response to the Opioid Epidemic

In conclusion, the opioid epidemic is a serious problem that has taken many lives. Between 21% and 29% of patients who receive opioids from their physicians misuse them. Further, approximately 8% to 12% of those patients then develop an opioid use disorder. Finally, about 80% of people who use heroin first misused prescription opioids. Clearly, opioids are dangerous and the opioid crisis has damaged many lives. However, there is hope. Of the 38 states who provided opioid overdose death data, fewer people died in 17 of those states between 2017 and 2018.

While the HHS, NIS, and CDC have made changes on a national level, Tennessee also strives to prevent opioid addictions. For example, Tennessee provides more than $30 million of federal and state funds for treatment for opioid use disorder. Further, the governor passed an initiative in 2018 called TN Together that combats opioid addiction through treatment and education. Further, Tennessee also offers treatment for opioid addictions. Several treatment centers in Tennessee provide SAMHSA-approved treatments for opioid addictions. For example, treatment centers located in Knoxville, Chattanooga, Clarksville, and Jackson all offer high-quality treatment approved by SAMHSA. We want to help you find the treatment you need. If you live in Tennessee and you or a loved one needs treatment for opioid addiction, please contact us today. Call us at 901-403-7925.