Governor Calls Out the Troops as Tennessee Fights Overdose Epidemic

John M. Dabbs

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Many people have looked the other way for too long. A few people believe the government is fighting to keep them from getting their marijuana, or other drugs. The main issue - the government is tasked with protecting its citizens. Tennessee is trying to keep the illicit drugs out of the mix because they are killing our people.

Record Tennessee deaths by overdose

The numbers continue to increase. Last year, the Northeast Tennessee region saw continued increases in the number of drug overdose deaths. The numbers began increasing at the beginning of the pandemic and have continued to escalate at an alarming rate.

Sullivan County has the highest overdose death rate in the Tri-Cities area, with 60 drug overdose deaths recorded in 2020. According to the latest report from the Office of Informatics and Analytics at the Tennessee Department of Health (2020 Tennessee Drug Overdose Deaths - September 1, 2021), here is how our area of the state faired with overdose deaths:

  • Carter County - 15 (12 opioid-related) - 4 Fentanyl
  • Greene County - 12 (11 opioid-related) - 9 Fentanyl
  • Hancock County - 3 (2 opioid-related) - 0 Fentanyl
  • Hawkins County - 23 (17 opioid-related) - 9 Fentanyl
  • Johnson County - 10 (4 opioid-related) - 0 Fentanyl
  • Sullivan County - 60 (45 opioid-related) - 27 Fentanyl
  • Unicoi County - 7 (6 opioid-related) - 2 Fentanyl
  • Washington County - 44 (27 opioid-related) - 17 Fentanyl

OD deaths up 45%

Tennessee's overdose epidemic is getting worse. More than 2000 Tennesseans died from a drug overdose in 2019. The number of deaths, especially those including illicit fentanyl has increased by nearly a thousand. This is a 45% increase from 2019. The 2019 to 2020 jump is the largest increase in recent history. Over three-quarters (79%) of overdose deaths in 2020 involved opioids. The increase in opioid-related deaths is being driven primarily by illicit fentanyl.

Governor calls out the troops

The state announced on Tuesday (December 7, 2021) that Tennessee Governor Bill Lee has authorized continued support of Texas in its effort to defend the US Southern Border with Mexico. Governor Lee has authorized the Tennessee national Guard to send more troops to the border in 2022 to curb the drug crisis.

In an official statement, Governor Lee said “An open border has far-reaching consequences that are fueling a drug crisis impacting both our national security and the safety of our state. I have authorized additional Tennessee Guard support at our Southern border as we look to address drug trafficking at the source.”

Seizures of illegal drugs by U.S. Customs and Border Protection along the southern border continue to increase. More than 200,000 pounds of fentanyl and methamphetamine - leading drivers of drug overdose - have been seized in 2021 so far.

The state will deploy 50 Tennessee Guard personnel in 2022 to work with the Texas National Guard and the Texas Department of Safety. The Tennessee National Guard has supported security efforts at the U.S. Southern border for decades. Lee's office says this deployment is in response to the growing surge in illegal crossings and drug-related activity.

“Our Soldiers and Airmen are capable and ready to come to the aid of our fellow Americans along the Texas border,” said Tennessee Adjutant General, Maj. Gen. Jeff Holmes. “Their service and sacrifice carry on a long-standing tradition and are rooted in a long line of Tennesseans who established the Volunteer Legacy that distinctly marks our great state.”

Racial inequality?

The number of black Tennesseans who died of drug overdose has increased by 73%, while the number of whites who died has decreased from 2016 to 2020 from 88% to 81%. The vast number of Tennesseans dying of drug overdoses are still white. Last year 2,446 whites died in Tennessee, compared with 552 blacks.

The age ranges are changing on death rates. in 2019 the majority were in the 25-34 age range (500), with the majority (800) in 2020 being in the 35-44 age range. Most deaths remain in the 25-54 age groups for both years.

It's not just a Northeast Tennessee problem

While the number of deaths by drug overdose is higher in Sullivan County, they are also elevated in Hawkins and Washington Counties. Rates are much higher in the counties around the corridor between Knoxville and Chattanooga. The counties around the Nashville and Memphis area are also much higher.

Do you know someone who uses? Whether a friend or family member, you should be prepared. Narcotic overdoses can be treated with Naloxone, also known as Narcan. The department of health has a website listing where to obtain naloxone kits in your area.

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An outdoor enthusiast with a passion for travel and adventure. John is a professional consultant and photojournalist.

Bristol, TN
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