In 2015, Tennessee officials reported at least 1,451 men, women and children died from drug overdoses in the state, but that’s far from an accurate count, reports the USA Today Network Tennessee. There are likely hundreds more. No one knows the true number. The state’s count of drug deaths is fundamentally flawed.
In 2015, state officials reported at least 1,451 men, women and children died from drug overdoses in Tennessee, but that’s far from an accurate count, reports the USA Today Network Tennessee. There are likely hundreds more. No one knows the true number. Drug deaths reported in Tennessee are fundamentally flawed and represent an under-count of the toll taken by opioids, the nation’s most deadly drug epidemic. “There are so many levels at which the data breaks down that we don’t know what we don’t know,” said Dr. Adele Lewis, deputy state chief medical examiner. “There is no doubt we are under-counting them (overdose deaths). There is no way that number is reality.”
The opioid overdose crisis is highlighting a longstanding problem of unreliable death investigations that is particularly acute in rural areas that do not have trained forensic pathologists, the same areas where opioids have taken the largest toll. Without an accurate count, lawmakers, public health officials and law enforcement have no way of knowing the extent of the problem and how to combat it. There were more opioid prescriptions than people in Tennessee in 2015. More people died of opioid overdoses than vehicle accidents, homicide or suicides in 2012. Between 2010-2015, opioid abuse claimed the lives of 6,039 Tennesseans. The USA Network investigation found that the state’s 95 county medical examiners, who lack training in forensic medicine and are paid very little or work for free, take different approaches to investigating and recording causes of death. A working group convened by the White House in 2016 released a report in December noting more than 50 federal programs rely on often-faulty cause-of-death data to create policy.