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TN Dept. of Health: More than 2,000 Tennesseans die from overdose in 2019

Health leaders also said that the number of deaths from illegal drugs increased and that the overdose epidemic could be moving away from prescription pain relievers.

TENNESSEE, USA — The Tennessee Department of Health said that 2020 could be the state's deadliest year for overdoses according to new data.

They released a report on overdose deaths on Tuesday, the 2021 Annual Overdose Report. It explores trends and efforts to address the overdose epidemic.

They said that 2,089 Tennesseans died of a drug overdose in 2019 — a 15% increase compared to the year before. When adjusting for age, they said that around 31 people per 100,000 died due to a drug overdose, a 41.2% increase.

Officials said the increase could be due to illegal drugs. The number of overdose deaths because of fentanyl increased by 44.8%, and was involved in more than half of all fatal drug overdoses for the first year ever.

The increase in the number of overdoses was likely made worse due to the COVID-19 pandemic, officials said. Suspected overdose rates in emergency departments were highest during April-June, the early months of the pandemic, officials said.

More opioid overdoses were also reported during May than any other month in 2020, according to the report.

The number of fatal overdoses in 2020 is expected to exceed those in 2019, officials said. Overdose deaths from January to September 2020 had already surpassed the total for all of 2019, officials said.

Despite the rise in deaths associated with fentanyl, the number of deaths involving prescription opioids decreased for the third year in a row.

The demographics of the overdose epidemic are also changing, officials said. Those who died because of a drug overdose in 2019 were more likely to be between 25-44 years old, male and were more likely to be Black compared to previous years.

The number of opioid prescriptions for pain medication declined in every county from 2019 to 2020, officials said. For example, the number of prescriptions for morphine milligram equivalents decreased by 48.6% from 2016 to 2020.