Opioid Overdoses in Shelby County: 'Pandemic Within the Pandemic'

May 20, 2020

An illustration of two milligrams of fentanyl—a lethal dose in most people, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Credit U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration

The Shelby County Health Department is reporting an “unprecedented” number of opioid drug overdoses since mid-March, a spike attributed to the social upheaval of the coronavirus pandemic.

About 100 of these 700 overdoses have been fatal—more deaths, so far in Shelby County, than from the virus itself.    

Officials say the economic and emotional disruptions are driving up demand for opioids. Into that mix are powerful synthetic drugs like fentanyl.

“A dose of fentanyl, the size of Abraham Lincoln’s nose on a penny, is enough to kill you,” said District Attorney Amy Weirich at a press conference Tuesday afternoon.

She says law enforcement is ramping up prosecutions of drug suppliers.

“The reason it’s important is not simply because it’s against the law,” she said. “The reason it is important to us is because people are dying.”

Social isolation, stress and economic insecurity are contributing to the rise of substance abuse during the crisis, said U.S. Attorney Mike Dunavant.

“Many people have lost their jobs or sources of income—maybe experiencing financial problems,” he said. “There may be some other family dysfunction, either because people are forced to live together or not or maybe estrangement or separation from family.”

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Social distancing measures have limited some 12-step meetings and recovery groups. Health Department Director Dr. Alisa Haushalter says meetings can take place in small groups of 10 people or less. She also encourages people to meet online and seek out rehab facilities where detox beds are available.

The Street Team for Overdose Prevention (STOP) will distribute kits containing the overdose-reversal nasal spray, Narcan, this week at several sites across the county. 

“We are oftentimes able to get people into treatment that day if they express a desire,” Haushalter said. “But, for those who are not ready or able yet to seek treatment, we want to make sure that you have access to Narcan...we know that it will prevent deaths which is our primary goal here.”

 

S.T.O.P. will provide free overdose reversal kits, including Naloxone (Narcan), treatment resources at the following locations, dates and times:

Tuesday, May 19, 2020:

  • 3360 N. Watkins Street, 4:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.
  • 2760 S. Perkins Road, 4:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.
  • 3362 S. 3rd Street, 4:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020:

  • 1590 Sycamore View Road, 4:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.
  • 28 N. Claybrook Street, 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m.
  • 3628 Summer Avenue, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.

Thursday, May 21, 2020:

  • 3360 N. Watkins Street, 4:00 to 8:00 p.m.
  • 2760 S. Perkins Road, 4:00 to 8:00 p.m.
  • 3362 S. 3rd Street, 4:00 to 8:00 p.m.

Friday, May 22, 2020:

  • 1590 Sycamore View Road, 4:00 to 8:00 p.m.
  • 28 N. Claybrook Street, 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m.
  • 3628 Summer Avenue, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.

Saturday, May 23, 2020:

  • 1590 Sycamore View Road, 1:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.
  • 28 N. Claybrook Street, 1:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.
  • 3628 Summer Avenue, 1:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.
  • 3360 N. Watkins Street, 1:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.
  • 2760 S. Perkins Road, 1:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.
  • 3362 S. 3rd Street, 1:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.

 All locations will provide overdose reversal kits and treatment resources, but needle exchange services will be available at Sycamore View, Claybrook, and Summer Avenue locations only.

 

Those in need of recovery services can contact the Tennessee Redline 1-800-889-9789 or the Memphis Area Prevention Coaltion.