Data shows Hamilton County drug overdoses rose 50% in 2020
CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (WDEF) – Overdoses in the Chattanooga region hit a grim milestone last year, with drug-related deaths reportedly rising by 50 percent in Hamilton County.
The Tennessee Department of Health previously reported a 22 percent increase in overdoses from 2019 to 2020.
Now, the Hamilton County Medical Examiner’s office has shocking statistics showing that while 270 Hamilton County residents died due to COVID-19 in 2020, 160 residents died from drug overdoses.
Some overdose prevention specialists tell News 12 that underreporting of overdoses in years past due to the stigma behind addiction could explain the rise in reported numbers.
“Initially there was not a lot of reporting of overdoses in a lot of rural areas, and it’s because of the stigma associated with chronic dependency and addiction. What people now know is that they cannot get help unless a problem is actually identified. So people are becoming more aware of what’s going on in communities and they’re being more proactive,” says Vanessa Spotts, regional overdose prevention specialist at the Hamilton County Coalition.
Others say that support systems like treatment centers being closed due to the pandemic could have exacerbated the situation.
“I think for those in early recovery it’s such an important factor to have a sense of support. When the pandemic hit, a lot of that went away. For a lot of treatment centers and those that are in intensive outpatient residential, we had to do things a little bit differently. People have struggled with anxiety, depression, stress. Even children have as well, so it just makes the whole family unit volatile in a sense,” says CADAS marketing director, Knox Farmer.
Most drug-related deaths in the county involved either a single opioid or a combined drug toxicity, mainly affecting white and male demographics ages 26 to 55.