Hamilton County drug-related deaths rose 50% in 2020, preliminary data shows


Final 12 months was a lethal one for overdoses within the Chattanooga space, as a pandemic labored to overshadow the continued — and nonetheless rising — opioid epidemic within the area.

Not like within the early days of the opioid epidemic, throughout which prescribed drugs had been entrance and middle, the extremely potent artificial opioid fentanyl is now the driving power behind the disaster.

Whereas 270 Hamilton County residents died on account of COVID-19 in 2020, 160 are reported to have died from overdoses and drug-related deaths, in accordance with the Hamilton County Medical Examiner’s workplace.

The numbers of overdoses and drug-related deaths have trended upward 12 months over 12 months, mentioned Vanessa Spotts, regional overdose prevention specialist for the Hamilton County Coalition, a nonprofit group that fights drug abuse.

However 2020 was totally different because the pandemic introduced financial pressure, isolation and delayed entry or hesitancy of care, as folks averted searching for therapy for worry of contracting the novel coronavirus.

Whereas most businesses calculate overdose information otherwise and numbers for 2020 are nonetheless preliminary, in accordance with a brand new report launched by the state, the data coming in paints a grim image of overdose deaths throughout the area.

“Although 2020 information are nonetheless preliminary, the development of accelerating overdoses by 2019 mixed with the exacerbating results of the COVID-19 pandemic have created what present information recommend would be the state’s deadliest 12 months for overdose,” says the 2021 annual overdose report from the Tennessee Division of Well being.


– Hamilton County Coalition



– Overdose restoration, alcohol consciousness coaching

– Nu-Begin therapy and restoration companies

– Drug Disposal

– Council for Alcohol & Drug Abuse Companies



– Grownup and adolescent therapy applications

– Residential and outpatient applications

– Detox

– Drug Screenings



In 2019, there have been roughly 106 recorded overdose and drug-related deaths in Hamilton County, in accordance with the medical expert. And in 2020, that quantity jumped about 50% to 160.

In keeping with the Chattanooga Police Division, officers responded to 575 overdose reviews, 107 of which resulted in deaths. The Hamilton County Sheriff’s Workplace additionally reported an extra 13 overdose-related calls in unincorporated areas of the county in the identical time-frame. Different cities within the county even have their very own figures.

Total, in accordance with information from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation supplied by the Hamilton County Coalition, legislation enforcement throughout the county responded to roughly 741 overdose incidents, and 90 to 95% of these calls resulted in the usage of Narcan, suggesting the involvement of opioids.

Narcan is a medicine used to reverse the signs of an opioid-induced overdose.


The medical expert’s workplace data present that not less than 59 of the 160 drug-related deaths within the county included fentanyl, which, in accordance with the USA Drug Enforcement Administration, might be 80 to 100 instances stronger than morphine.

“It’s such a lethal artificial drug,” mentioned Knox Farmer, advertising director for the Chattanooga-based Council for Alcohol and Drug Abuse Companies. “And whereas now we have seen prescription overdoses go down barely, what we’re seeing is the fentanyl overdoses going within the incorrect development, and that’s scary in and of itself.”

Terry Topping, a narcotics investigator for the Chattanooga Police Division, mentioned that fentanyl helps sellers’ backside traces as it’s stronger in decrease doses than different substances, so extra might be bought from a single batch or added to different medicine. And lots of instances some customers might not know what’s within the substance they’re taking.

Most drug-related deaths within the county concerned both a single opioid or a mixed drug toxicity, primarily affecting white and male demographics, ages 26 to 55.

Methamphetamine accounted for about 14% of the deaths, whereas methadone, alcohol, and cocaine every made up 2.5%.

Extra folks appear to be turning to substances of many sorts within the pandemic, even when they do not have a historical past of substance abuse.

“One of many issues that we did see was that, you recognize, folks coping with elevated melancholy, at residence, they’re coping with boredom, anxiousness, stress, monetary stress, hopelessness, and all of these collectively are triggers for lots of people which might be in restoration,” Farmer mentioned.

Many instances, those self same components might be triggers no matter drug historical past.

“I believe the pandemic simply caused lots of different danger components,” Farmer mentioned. “We’re seeing some of us that perhaps had been depressed and scared and anxious, and so they began taking exterior drugs to really feel higher about themselves, and now they themselves have developed an issue and so they had been unable to operate like they had been earlier than the pandemic.”

Hamilton County Unintentional Drug Overdoses 2020

Drug Sort, Deaths

Mixed Drug Toxicity – 77

Opioids – 46

Methamphetamine – 22

Cocaine – 4

Methadone – 4

Alcohol – 4

Different – 4

Sufferer age ranges, Deaths

15-25, 12

26-35, 44

36-45, 41

46-55, 36

56-65, 17

66-75, 9

76-85, 0

Sufferer intercourse, Deaths

Male, 105

Feminine, 55

Sufferer race, Dyings

White, 127

Black, 33

Different, 0

Supply: Hamilton County Medical Examiner



Remedy and prevention organizations just like the Council for Alcohol and Drug Abuse Companies and the Hamilton County Coalition suggest that individuals search assist as quickly as potential.

“Most likely the worst factor that anyone can do is to attend,” Farmer mentioned. “Should you or a cherished one has an issue, and you recognize that you just need assistance or {that a} cherished one is asking for assist, positively do not let the pandemic and what’s going on deter them from searching for assist.”

Investigator Topping mentioned that particularly through the early months of the pandemic, it was tougher to search out beds and open slots in therapy facilities as consumption protocols had been tailored to COVID-19.

Many facilities required destructive COVID-19 exams and quarantine durations, typically delaying care in an effort to mitigate the results of the virus.

“Previous to COVID-19, the Nu-Begin workers was in a position to place most members in in-patient or out-patient therapy inside two to 5 days or much less,” mentioned a statment by Camilla Bibbs, govt director of Hamilton County Coalition. “After COVID-19, necessary testing delayed admissions to a therapy facility for as much as two weeks. In different circumstances, sufferers had been launched early from therapy on account of a COVID-19 publicity within the therapy facility.”

The applications started to incorporate digital conferences and assessments as individualized options had been sought, along with persevering with to confess new sufferers all year long.

In 2020, the Hamilton County Coalition was in a position to safe greater than $64,600 in funding from the Tennessee Neighborhood CARES program for issues reminiscent of private protecting tools, whereas the Council for Alcohol and Drug Abuse Companies added a brand new 24-bed detox middle to accommodate extra folks affected by habit.

Further Suggestions

– Correctly eliminate any narcotics in residence which might be not wanted

– If you recognize that you just or somebody round you faces habit, preserve Narcan available which might be purchased at native pharmacies or obtained by applications like one supplied by the Hamilton County Coalition

– In case of medical emergency, name 911


Because the pandemic continues into 2021, there appears to be no conclusive reply on what number of overdoses there might be by the top of the 12 months. However there’s hope.

In terms of legislation enforcement, in recent times Topping mentioned that developments have turned to serving to place people in therapy facilities, somewhat than searching for harsh costs for these with habit, whereas rising the severity of circumstances for sellers whose gross sales result in deadly overdoses.

“The entire plan that we’re working now could be lowering habit, rising sentencing for sellers, decrease the demand for the medicine, decrease the profitability of drug sellers promoting medicine in Chattanooga [all so] that they will discover that Chattanooga isn’t an excellent place to be promoting medicine,” Topping mentioned.

Whereas he mentioned he has personally seen a major variety of overdose calls already in 2021, he believes that extra individuals are keen to name throughout an overdose scenario now that they know therapy middle referrals are extra prevalent. Additionally, the division has arrested and has pending circumstances for a number of sellers already within the new 12 months, reducing their projected variety of overdose deaths in Chattanooga from 130 to 104.

Spotts mentioned that her data additionally present promising developments in comparison with final 12 months as folks search out assist.

“Since issues have began to open up, individuals are not on the level the place they really feel like that is Armageddon,” she mentioned. “And we see a lower within the variety of overdoses.”

To supply help to these going through habit and their households, Farmer and Spotts work to coach group members to assist combat the stigma of habit by seeing it as a illness, not an ethical failing.

“This can be a illness similar to coronary heart illness, diabetes,” Farmer mentioned. “You will hear folks say typically ‘Oh it is simply willpower. They will get off of it in the event that they need to.’ That’s the farthest factor from the reality.”

Spotts echoed these sentiments.

“They should have a greater understanding of what habit is. And the explanation I say that’s as a result of there’s such a stigma related to continual dependency and habit,” Spotts mentioned. “They’re shamed for the habit, whereas, in the event that they had been supported and supplied the mandatory assets to have the ability to get into therapy, then that stigma would go away.”

Contact Tierra Hayes at thayes@timesfreepress.com.


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