Police officers fighting the opioid epidemic in a Tennessee community rattled by overdoses say heroin is the driving force behind the vast majority of crimes and deaths.
Heroin is ravaging Cheatham County with spiking overdoses throughout the community, driven by widespread prescription painkiller abuse. Officers in the county all carry and are trained in administering Narcan, the overdose reversal drug that can save addicts from death. Officers in the region say up to 90 percent of robberies, deaths and other crimes have their root in heroin, reports WKRN.
Cheatham County Police recently warned the community to expect an increase in overdoses, possibly due to a bad batch cut with a more powerful substance like fentanyl.
Fentanyl is an opiate-based painkiller known to be roughly 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine.
“Heroin is taking up 80 to 90 percent of our time,” Det. Ken Miller with the Cheatham County Sheriff’s Department told WKRN. “Everything we are dealing with now is related to heroin. It used to be pills. Now it is heroin coming back, and what we are finding out is they are cutting it with something that is not heroin, and whatever it is it’s turning fatal.”
Suppliers cut fentanyl or other substances into heroin batches because of their potency, increasing the risk of a fatal overdose. Heroin addicts with high tolerances will actually seek out batches cut with fentanyl for a better high.
The presence of the deadly substances is causing a new problem for police conducting drug raids. In the chaos of a major drug bust, heroin powder can go airborne, poisoning officers exposed. Police are now cautioned to avoid field-testing due to the risk of exposure.
The problem in Tennessee is directly linked to prescription painkillers. There are more prescriptions for opioids in the state than there are people, highlighting the high rates of addiction in Tennessee. The heroin overdose death rate across the state spiked 43.5 percent between 2014 and 2015.
More Americans are taking prescription painkillers than ever before, despite record heroin abuse and rising overdose death rates connected to opioids. A recent survey from Truven Health Analytics and NPR reveals more than half of the U.S. population reports receiving a prescription for opioids at least once from their doctor, a 7 percent increase since 2011.
Only 19 percent of respondents, however, received the painkillers for chronic pain. Seventy-four percent of respondents said doctors doled out prescription narcotics for acute pain, like after a procedure to remove wisdom teeth.
A record 33,000 Americans died from opioid related overdoses in 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Opioid deaths contributed to the first drop in U.S. life expectancy since 1993 and eclipsed deaths from motor vehicle accidents in 2015.
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