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Mental health advocate suggests self-medicating partially responsible for overdose rise

Published: May. 15, 2022 at 2:49 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced this week that more than 100,000 Americans died from a drug overdose in 2021, the highest number ever recorded.

It’s not a number surprising to people like Paula Hopper.

“I know the struggles of families. I know the pain of death,” said Hopper. “I know how hard it is and what the journey is like for someone who’s trying to get to recovery.”

Hopper is the executive director of Serenity Recovery Center in Memphis.

She says in the last few years she’s seen an increase in people struggling with addictions to opioids like fentanyl.

“We’ve seen an increase in death in people that are dying who don’t even have an opportunity to get to treatment,” said Hopper.

Action News 5 analyzed Tennessee state health data and found between 2016 and 2020 more than 1,200 people in Shelby County died from a drug overdose. Two-thirds (795) of those deaths involved fentanyl.

Hopper says many people battling a drug addiction are also battling a mental health disorder.

A federal health survey released in 2021 found adults with a mental health disorder were twice as likely to struggle with substance abuse, compared to adults without a mental health disorder.

“Because often people have one substance use disorder that can lead them to mental health issues or mental health issues can lead them to substance use disorders because often people self-medicate,” said Hopper.

Hopper took part in Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris’ recent mental health roundtable and used it as an opportunity to remind people help is available, whether they’re struggling with a mental illness, drug abuse or both.

“Don’t be afraid to reach out and to ask for help,” said Hopper.

The Tennessee Statewide Crisis Line is available 24 hours a day as a resource for anyone struggling with a mental health crisis. It’s a free service and is available at 855-CRISIS-1 (855-274-7471).

The Tennessee REDLINE is another 24/7 resource to help people with substance abuse issues. You can call or text 800-889-9789 for confidential referrals.

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