published Tuesday, July 29th, 2014

Overdoses leading cause of Tennessee deaths

NASHVILLE — Drug overdoses are once again the leading cause of death in Tennessee, but the state Health Department is hoping a new law will reverse that trend.

According to data released Tuesday by the Tennessee Department of Health's Vital Statistics office, drug overdoses killed 1,166 people in the state last year. By comparison, 1,008 people died in motor vehicle accidents and 405 were victims of homicides.

A law effective July 1 gives Tennesseans access to a life-saving drug. Naloxone (na-LAHX'ohn) temporarily reverses the deadly effects of opioid drugs, giving the person time to reach a medical provider.

The new law allows doctors to prescribe naloxone to a person at risk of experiencing an overdose. The drug can also be prescribed to a family member, friend or other person in a position to help. It comes in an injectable form and a nasal spray.

According to Health Department data, 2013 saw an increase in overdose deaths from 2012, when 1,094 were recorded.

For the 2013 deaths, 54 percent were men and 46 percent were women. The median age of overdose death victims was 46 years old. Whites accounted for 90 percent of overdose deaths. Seventy-two percent of overdose deaths were among people with only a high school diploma, a GED certificate or less education.

The numbers include people who overdosed on both illegal and prescribed drugs. They include both intentional and unintentional overdoses.

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