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Demographics of Shelby County overdose deaths changing

Published: Apr. 2, 2022 at 9:15 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - When many eyes were on the COVID-19 pandemic, another crisis continued to grow.

Deaths from opioid and other drug overdoses have gone up since 2020.

Some addiction recovery specialists are getting ready to offer more resources to people with addiction in the hardest-hit areas of Shelby County.

The main cause of the increase in overdose deaths is due to fentanyl-laced drugs. Addiction recovery specialists say the dangerous drug is now being made in pill form resembling more common anxiety or pain medications.

By learning more about the drug issue in Memphis, Stevie Moore wanted to do what he could to help.

Stevie Moore’s Freedom From Unnecessary Negatives or FFUN is usually advocating against gun violence. On Saturday the organization’s building on South Third Street welcomed an effort to fight another thing contributing to unnecessary deaths-drugs

“Both of us are actually doing the same thing,” Moore said. “Y’all are trying to stop killing through drugs and I’m trying to stop killing through guns.”

FFUN’s involvement in this cause doesn’t end there.

On Monday the Memphis Area Prevention Coalition will open a harm reduction center for people with addictions at the FFUN building.

A syringe exchange program is part of the center, the center will also offer HIV and Hepatitis C testing and provide Narcan, the opioid overdose reversal drug, to those who need it. All of the resources will be available at a low or zero cost.

Community organizers say the 38109 zip code in the southern part of the city is starting to see an increase in fatal drug overdoses.

“We are on a steady increase with this, we’re seeing more drugs, we’re seeing more of a problem,” Memphis Area Prevention Coalition’s Joh Weil said. “This is our answer to that.”

Before the harm reduction center opens on Monday, multiple organizations focusing on addiction recovery passed out resources, like Narcan, to those who need it.

“What we wanted to do today was have the neighborhood come out and understand what the mission is to know that we’re here without any cost involved with them. We want to help save lives,” Ron Bobal said.

According to the Shelby County Health Department as of last week there have been 94 deaths due to suspected overdoses since the beginning of the year.

The Memphis Area Prevention Coalition says more than half of those overdoses have been in black men. The group calls this unprecedented. The group explains over the last decade the opioid epidemic has usually impacted white people the most. This is the first time in that time frame the group has seen a majority of overdose deaths in Black men.

However, the numbers are showing no one is immune to this crisis.

“From 2019 to 2020 we saw a 45% increase in fatal overdoses, 85% increase in fentanyl overdoses,” Weil said.

Saturday’s event and the new harm reduction center are the product of multiple agencies with the same goal.

“Memphis is worth saving,” Bobal said.

The harm reduction center on South Third Street will be open every Monday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

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