NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Overdoses are on the rise in the Volunteer state, and early data shows they’ve increased to new alarming levels, likely made worse during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The state has also seen an increase in the number of counterfeit drugs being sold and produced.
On Monday, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, along with the Tennessee Department of Health and other groups, held a news conference to "sound the alarm" on the growing problem.
Watch the full briefing below:
“So let me be clear: If you’re buying pills on the street in our state, you’re gambling with your life,” said TBI Director David Rausch. “Those making these pills don’t care about quality control, they only care about profiting from other people’s addictions.”
Rausch also warned of another possibility — that “adversarial nations’ state actors” could be using the deadly fake pills to “intentionally kill Americans.”
For the first time in six years, the United States Drug Enforcement Administration recently issued a public safety alert due to dangerous flood of fake prescription pills. Last month, the DEA reported more than 9.5 million counterfeit pills have been seized this year.
The pills are mass produced in labs illegally — and usually produced overseas — then marketed to look like real prescription drugs. The black-market pills often contain dangerous drugs like fentanyl and meth.
Data from the Tennessee Department of Health shows every year the number of overdose deaths grow each year. In 2015, 1,451 people died. In 2019, that number grew to a little over 2,000 Tennesseans dying of a drug overdose.
Tennessee Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey said more than 3,000 Tennesseans died from overdoses in 2020. That's a 45% increase from 2019 and exceeds the national increase of 30% in same time period.
Piercey said the overdoses have occurred primarily in the 35-44 age range and have involved fentanyl and meth.
The TBI released the following photos showing the difference between the legitimate and counterfeit pills.
If you’re struggling with a substance abuse problem, Tennessee offers a lot of resources for people seeking help. You can find more information here. You can also call the Tennessee REDLINE, a 24/7 hotline that connects Tennessee residents with state-funded, addiction treatment and recovery services, at 1-800-889-9789.