Like many other communities in the southern United States, Memphis, Tennessee has seen a drastic spike in opioid-related deaths in recent years.
According to a Feb. 29, 2016 article in The Commercial Appeal, the Memphis Police Department (MPD) has encountered more than 260 heroin overdose cases, 75 of which resulted in death. This shocking statistic translates to an 800% increase in heroin-related deaths since 2011.
Why Heroin? Why Now?
Public health officials and law enforcement agencies in Tennessee are working to uncover the reason for the spike in heroin use that is causing a tragic loss of life across the state so that they can better equip themselves to address the problem.
What has been uncovered is a direct correlation between efforts to stop the prescription opioid abuse epidemic and the rise in heroin abuse. In light of the staggering rates at which Tennesseans are abusing prescription painkillers, new initiatives have been developed to educate the public about the dangers of opioid abuse. Further, doctors are being encouraged to limit the amount of prescriptions they write for these substances, and are now armed with a statewide database that monitors the amount of prescriptions a patient has at any given time.
The results of these efforts have led to a reduction in the number of individuals who are consuming prescription opioids for illicit purposes in Tennessee. However, when an opioid-dependent person can no longer obtain his or her drug of choice in doctors’ offices, he or she may turn to heroin as a replacement. This course of action is directly related to the acute uptick seen in rates of heroin abuse throughout Shelby County and across Tennessee.
“You can’t really talk about heroin without talking about this, one of the things that’s fueling this heroin uptick or epidemic is the prescription drug abuse," Ed Stanton, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee, said in the Feb. 26 Commercial Appeal article. "A lot of times, we see teens get these drugs like hydrocodone or OxyContin from the drug cabinet of a family member. They can’t afford to pay for the pills that cost from $5 to $35 per pill, and come over and buy heroin for $7 or $12 a pack. This heroin is very pure and potent, that’s where were are seeing a number of overdoses of epic proportions, not only here in West Tennessee but throughout the country.”
To combat this dangerous trend, the Shelby County District Attorney’s office has hired a special prosecutor who will be focusing solely on the heroin epidemic.
In addition, there is new legislation in place that allows law enforcement to charge anyone selling heroin that has resulted in an overdose with second degree murder. Increased preventative measures and strict penalties will hopefully combine to reduce the amount of heroin being consumed in Memphis and the surrounding areas.