From one crisis to another, overdose epidemic in Nashville shows no signs of slowing down

Posted at 5:16 PM, Apr 23, 2020

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Five overdoses in less than an hour. One dead.

Three women and two men bought a substance presumed to be crack at the intersection of Buchanan Street and Dr D.B. Todd Jr Blvd in North Nashville in early April. Paramedics had to use Naloxone to revive four of them after they overdosed on the same batch that had the highly potent opiate fentanyl.

Three were found in an alley while the other two were just walking distance away.

“They had the same product, bought the same product and overdosed on the same product,” Monti Herring of the Nashville Prevention Partnership said.

Herring would become familiar with the area the following week as a regional overdose prevention specialist. Part of his job is to engage with the community by handing out kits of Naloxone otherwise known by the brand-name Narcan, a nasal spray that quickly reverses the effects of an opioid overdose.

“We came out and started handing out Naloxone and majority of the people know about it already,” he said.

In the age of social distancing, their job is far from glamorous and many times risky having to expose themselves to many people. Herring uses an N95 mask when he visits different neighborhoods including the homeless camp under the Jefferson Street Bridge where a 21-year-old woman died by an overdose last weekend.

Herring is in longtime recovery and wouldn’t want it any other way.

“We all have a recovery story and part of that is giving back. We have to get out here. We have to give out the kits and show that we care,” Herring implored.

His role is more important than ever as concerns mount on the growing number of overdoses amid the COVID-19 pandemic. In a way COVID-19 added a crisis on top of another crisis that long killed many people throughout Tennessee.

Overdoses going up in Davidson County

One way to analyze the number of overdoses in Davidson County is to see how many times Naloxone was used. The Nashville Fire Department provided new data on the amount its paramedics had to use the opioid reversal drug.

Recent statistics showed 264 patients needed Naloxone in March, the same month a tornado hit Nashville and the start of the COVID-19 outbreak. It jumped from the total of 213 in February and January. The numbers more than tripled compared to the same time frame only three years ago.

With the number of cases going up, expect to see deaths increase as well. As of Tuesday, there were 38 suspected fatal overdoses in Davidson County in April, according to the Metro Public Health Department. Thirty-eight was the total in March.

In comparison, there were 14 in the same time frame in April 2019.

Health officials stress while numbers show an increase, the medical examiner’s office would still have to confirm and determine if the deaths are related to drugs.

COVID-19 likely intensifying overdose crisis

As the Metro overdose response coordinator, Trevor Henderson dissects the data and works with multiple partners across the city to combat the opioid crisis. He is looking to see if there are any other changes pertaining to when stimulus checks rolled out.

He fears the effects of COVID-19 would undo all the hard work many organizations have already done and continue to conduct.

While there are likely several reasons for the increase in overdoses, social distancing alone can be problematic and help breed addiction.

“Social distancing could feel an awful lot like isolation or disconnection and we do know that anybody living with the addiction knows those are not helpful feelings to say the least,” Henderson said.

The Tennessee Association of Alcohol, Drug & other Addiction Services said fewer people are seeking treatment. While virtual meetings have become a new norm for outpatient services, it may not be the best option for others in recovery and could opt out.

Henderson worries people in recovery may be more susceptible to the effects of opioids and kill them since they no longer have the tolerance. The outbreak alone is stressful and can push people to seek drugs.

“Losing jobs and losing loved ones are things that can become triggers for relapse and disconnection from other services,” Henderson added.