Tennessee opioid overdose deaths jump in 2020

FILE - This undated file photo provided by the U.S. Attorneys Office for Utah and introduced as evidence at a trial shows fentanyl-laced fake oxycodone pills collected during an investigation. (U.S. Attorneys Office for Utah via AP, File)

Overdose deaths in Tennessee jumped nearly 50% in 2020, according to new data from the Tennessee Department of Health. Close to 80% of overdose deaths were caused by synthetic and prescription opioids.

Tennesseans living with addiction point to two major factors in the spike in overdose deaths: support systems interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic and the increased presence of fentanyl, a highly potent synthetic opioid.

The latest numbers put Tennessee on the leading edge of a rapidly progressing overdose crisis that claimed nearly 100,000 lives in the United States in 2020.

COVID-19 restrictions and precautions have threatened some of the most relied-upon tools for managing addiction: regular in-person meetings, peer-to-peer support and the sense of connectedness that comes with a recovery community.

Nathan Payne lives in Cookeville, Tennessee, where he works for the Lifeline Peer Project, a state-funded program staffed by individuals with personal experience managing addiction and recovery.