Drug overdoses are skyrocketing; what are possible solutions?

Local leaders met with state and federal lawmakers to discuss possible policy changes
Drug overdoses have skyrocketed in Tennessee in recent years, hitting a record-high in 2020.
Published: Nov. 18, 2022 at 6:29 PM EST
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - Drug overdoses have skyrocketed in Tennessee in recent years, hitting a record high in 2020. Now, East Tennessee leaders are calling for changes at the state and federal levels to help.

“This problem has been exacerbated since the pandemic,” Karen Pershing, Executive Director of the Metro Drug Coalition, said.

Tennessee Department of Health data shows there were 2,089 overdoses in the state in 2019. In 2020, that number jumped to 3,032 overdoses, which is a one-year record for the state.

“Right now, we’re not seeing any trend that unfortunately is showing us that it’s getting ready to even level off at this point,” Pershing said.

Pershing said changes need to be made at the state and federal levels to reverse the trend.

Local, state, and federal lawmakers gathered Friday morning to listen to some of the issues.

Pershing urged for several policy changes at the state and federal levels. One mentioned was stronger punishments for people who use and sell fentanyl products.

“Fentanyl is extremely deadly,” Pershing said. “The people who are manufacturing and distributing fentanyl know that they have a very lethal product.”

Pershing also called for more funding to be used for prevention.

Local leaders agree.

“Some more funds coming down to look at issues that are combined,” Knoxville Councilwoman Seema Singh said. “The trauma, the mental health, the recovery, rehab.”

Pershing also made the case for raising tobacco taxes, banning flavored vape products, and creating easier access to treatment, especially for people who are uninsured.

About 250 Americans die every day from drug overdoses. Alcohol and opioids are responsible for about 61% of those deaths.

Pershing is hopeful that the politicians left Friday’s breakfast understanding that they can all play a role in limiting, and preventing overdoses.