CLINTON – The powerful opioid fentanyl and fentanyl analogues (synthetic opioids) continue to claim hundreds of lives each year in both Anderson County and neighboring Knox County.
Fentanyl and fentanyl analogues were the most frequently identified drugs in the 464 drug-related deaths in both counties last year, according to findings released today by the Knox County Regional Forensic Center.
“After seeing an encouraging 11.6% drop in overdose deaths in 2019, I’m sad to see the 2020 statistics showed an increase of 82% in Anderson County,” Anderson County Mayor Terry Frank said. “The loss of life, the pain and suffering for friends, family and our community is heartbreaking. We must continue our efforts of raising awareness, prevention, education and coordinating with key agencies and organizations to combat drug related deaths.”
Drug-related deaths in Anderson County totaled 51 in 2020, up from 28 deaths in 2019, according to findings released today by the Knox County Regional Forensic Center.
Dr. Darinka Mileusnic-Polchan, chief medical examiner for Anderson and Knox counties, and Chris Thomas, chief administrative officer at the forensic center, issued the 2020 Drug-Related Death Report for both counties Monday morning.
When the number of local deaths attributed to drug overdose began to decline in 2019, local officials thought their joint efforts to raise awareness about the dangers of overprescribing opioids were beginning to have a positive impact, Dr. Mileusnic-Polchan said in a letter included in Monday’s report.
“We were so encouraged that we were moving in the right direction,” Mayor Frank said. “But then, 2020 and the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic hit, and tragically, the number of drug-related deaths has spiked.”
Mixed-drug intoxications lead the way in overdose deaths, according to the 2020 report. And alcohol has been more frequently abused in combination with other drugs like cocaine, oxycodone, oxymorphone, and alprazolam.
Polypharmacy, when more than one drug is deemed responsible for an individual’s death, was involved in 80-percent of overdose deaths in Anderson County, and 72-percent in Knox County last year.
“I’m saddened but not surprised with the numbers,” Anderson County Emergency Medical Services Director Nathan Sweet said. “I believe that the number of drug-related deaths has a close correlation to mental health. And, sadly, mental health is one of the most under-served health needs in this country. We must do more.”
In both Anderson and Knox Counties, the ME’s annual report lists the top 10 drugs found in drug-related deaths as: 1) synthetic opioids; 2) methamphetamine; 3) heroin; 4) alcohol/ethanol; 5) cocaine; 6) gabapentin; 7) diphenhydramine; 8) oxycodone; 9) alprazolam; 10) oxymorphone.
In both counties, the ME’s report also shows that young and middle-aged men continued to disproportionately affected by drug overdose compared to women: 63-percent men versus 37-percent in Anderson County, and 67-percent men versus 33-percent women in Knox County.
In Anderson County, there was a sharp increase in overdose deaths in individuals age 55 to 64.
For more detailed information, the Knox County Regional Forensic Center’s 2020 Drug-Related Death Report can be viewed online at http://www.knoxcounty.org/rfc/reports.php or online at www.andersoncountytn.gov.