Overdose reversal medicine Naloxone is a tremendous tool in the fight against opioids but we need more Tennesseans aware of the crisis and what they can do to help.
Most of us have heard about the opioid epidemic afflicting the United States.
The numbers are truly mind-boggling: Over 450,000 Americans have lost their lives to an opioid overdose in the last 20 years. Drug overdoses recently became the leading cause of death in the United States for people under 50—claiming over 72,000 lives last year. That’s enough victims to fill up Nissan stadium and then some. Opioids are involved in over two-thirds of all drug fatalities. And in Tennessee, overdose deaths continue to rise.
The Volunteer State currently ranks 13th in the nation in fatal opioid overdoses and 2nd in the Southeast. Experts trace the roots of this problem back to an abundance of pain pills prescribed to Tennesseans over the years.
For 11 out of the last 14 years, the number of opioid prescriptions written in the state exceeded its total population. But pharmaceutical overdoses were just the first wave. The second wave began around 2010 with a surge in deaths caused by heroin.
As it became more difficult to obtain prescription opioids, black market alternatives filled the void. The third and most deadly wave of opioid overdose deaths in Tennessee has been linked to illicitly-manufactured fentanyl, a synthetic opioid so powerful that the equivalent of a few grains of salt can kill an adult.
Fentanyl is sinisterly mixed with other popular street drugs like heroin, cocaine, and counterfeit pills to amplify their effects, often unbeknownst to the consumer.
In just 5 years, these fentanyl-laced cocktails have surpassed both heroin and prescriptions to become the leading cause of overdose fatalities in Tennessee. RAND Corporation characterizes this third wave as a mass poisoning event—one that demands that we, as a society, must mobilize to fight.
Recently, one Middle Tennessee community did just that. The Town of White Bluff, located in Dickson County, has seen its fair share of this crisis. “We lost 3 in one week earlier this year,” said Larry Clark, a retired postman with deep ties to the community. “Young people, old people, parents, you name it,” he lamented.
A few weeks ago, Clark and some friends decided to take action and organize an event they titled “How to Save a Life,” a free overdose prevention and Naloxone training session that was led by Candis Batey, their county’s Regional Overdose Prevention Specialist, ROPS.
There are 20 ROPS that operate statewide who conduct outreach in communities to educate people about responding to drug overdoses and distribute free Naloxone—generic Narcan®—to the public.
Naloxone is an overdose reversal agent that can temporarily revive someone who consumed a dangerous dose of opioids. Participants who complete the ROPS’ training earn a certificate from the state and receive a complimentary Opioid Overdose Response Kit with 2 doses of Naloxone.
Over 40 people showed up to participate at the White Bluff event. It was clear that community members not only wanted to learn more about the opioid epidemic but also wanted to become part of the solution.
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