Overall overdose numbers down in Mid-South, but deaths remain consistent

Published: May. 20, 2022 at 5:51 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Overdose numbers in Mid-South states are down from last year.

In Tennessee, for example, the state’s Department of Health’s March 2022 report on overdoses, the most recent report they have, which is both fatal and non-fatal, showed roughly 600 less people OD’d than that time last year, 1,834 to 2,421.

2021 was a record-setting year for many states across the country when it came to overdose deaths.

All three Mid-South states surpassed the CDC prediction on deaths for that year.

According to CDC data, Arkansas had 612 deaths, 19% higher than the predicted 514.

Mississippi had 693 deaths, 30% higher than the predicted 532, and Tennessee had 3,813, 23% higher than the predicted 3,090.

Though the drop in overall overdoses is good news, medical professionals, however, are saying we shouldn’t be fooled by the numbers.

“It looks like the deaths this year are on par and maybe even exceed that,” said Dr. Ronald Cowan, Chair of UTHSC’s Department of Psychiatry.

The main culprit, as some may be able to guess, is fentanyl.

“It’s pretty much omnipresent in all these deaths, whether or not there’s cocaine or heroin or other illicit drugs present as well,” said Dr. Ben Figura, Director of the West TN Regional Forensic Center and Forensic Anthropologist for UTHSC.

One of those 2022 overdose deaths is 38-year-old Cornelius Williams, a Memphian who died in mid-February.

We spoke with his mother, Walls resident Tonda Fernando.

“I didn’t think that it was true until I saw them bring his body out,” Fernando recalled. “They were telling us to look away, but I couldn’t.”

Fernando said much of her son’s situation was suspicious.

His autopsy report read that traces of fentanyl were found in his system, and that “isn’t like him,” Fernando told us.

“I found it to be strange,” she added.

She isn’t the only one who thinks this.

Memphis Police confirmed to us Williams’s death is being investigated as a homicide.

We were the first to tell Fernando this news, and while the news made her feel validated in her suspicion, it only further set in the reality that her son is gone.

“Somebody took my son away from me, and it wasn’t time for him to go,” Fernando said, tears rolling down both cheeks.

Medical professional like Cowan are looking to what can be done in the Mid-South to prevent further overdoses from happening and help addicts recover.

“...more telehealth clinics, making methadone more available. That seems to have reduced overdose deaths and maybe enhance,” Cowan said. “I think we’ll just have to see what the balance is, overall.

Cowan mentioned a network of connections looking to further efforts to fight this in the Bluff City, particularly with UTHSC’s addiction medicine clinic, an expansion of care at Regional One, and also people with a history of opioid addiction who receive training to reach out to underserved communities.

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