International Overdose Awareness Day

August 31st, communities around the world will host a variety of activities in support of International Overdose Awareness Day. Inspired by annual community events hosted in Melbourne, Australia, International Overdose Awareness Day was brought to the global stage in 2012 as nations like the United States and Australia were beginning to understand the magnitude of the opioid crisis. Since 2012, IOAD has maintained its original purpose to raise awareness, reduce stigma of drug-related death and commemorate those who have been lost to drug overdose.

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IOAD Events Across Tennessee

Download the Toolkit

The TN Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services created a toolkit
to spread awareness during IOAD
Download the .zip below to share on social media!

Overdose in Tennessee​

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What is an Overdose?​

All drugs can cause an overdose, including medications prescribed by a doctor or purchased over the counter. However, not all overdoses are fatal. In Tennessee, 80% of fatal overdoses involved an opioid despite the opioid overdose reversal medication, Naloxone, being available.

An opioid is a class of drugs that includes illicit fentanyl as well as powerful pain relievers available by prescription. An opioid overdose can occur when a opioid is taken in excess amounts or in combination with other drugs. This is because opioids affect the brain’s regulation of breathing. During an overdose, opioids can slow breathing until it eventually stops, resulting in death. Most opioid overdoses are slow and occur to one to three hours after using the drug. However, an overdose can occur faster when stronger opioids (like fentanyl) or other substances (like xylazine) are involved.

2022 Nonfatal Overdose Outpatient Visits
2022 Overdose Deaths in TN
2023 Painkiller Prescriptions Filled in TN

Understanding Data

Together, Tennessee recognizes that these numbers matter. 

Every number is a story, and every story is a person.

The Tennessee Department of Health (TDH) is taking a data-driven approach to understanding  this evolving epidemic. Through state support and federal funding the Office of Informatics and Analytics (OIA) is able to support a comprehensive and multi-faceted data-driven response to the opioid crisis in TN.

We use mortality (fatal), morbidity (nonfatal*), and prescription data, and rigorous public health surveillance and epidemiologic methods to provide accurate and timely information to understand the epidemic. OIA strongly supports dissemination of data through a variety of reports, data-briefs, projects, and collaborative statewide efforts including a data dashboard.

Data Dashboard
Facts About Fentanyl
emerging trend report on Xylazine cover page
Emerging Trend: Xylazine

Reducing Stigma

Stigma & The Barriers It Creates.

One of the biggest barriers to preventing overdose deaths is the perceived stigma surrounding overdose and addiction.

When an individual is stigmatized, others view the person as the problem rather than viewing the condition as the problem. This leads the individual to feeling shame and isolation, making it even harder to ask for or accept help.

How Can You Reduce Stigma?

Person-first language is proven to reduce stigma and improve treatment. 

Language can be both a powerful tool of connection and a strong source of division.  Small language shifts can have a big impact in building a culture of compassion rather than one of stigma, shame, and stereotypes. The End the Syndemic TN Language Guide is a tool to understanding more compassionate language and how to use it. Click below to access the End the Syndemic TN Language Guide and learn more!

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Naloxone, often known by it’s nasal spray application brand name Narcan, is a proven tool in the battle against drug misuse and overdose death. When too much of an opioid medication is taken, it can slow breathing to a dangerously low rate. If breathing slows too much, overdose death can occur. Naloxone can reverse this potentially fatal situation by allowing the person to breath normally again.

Anytime an overdose is suspected call 911 immediately. Stay with the person until first-responders arrive. Give Naloxone if you have access and are trained. Sometimes multiple doses of Naloxone are needed if potent opioids, such as Fentanyl, are consumed. Start rescue breaths by pinching the person’s nose and breathing into their mouth every five seconds until first-responders arrive or the person becomes alert. If you cannot wait for first-responders, place the person in the recovery position (on their side supported by a bent knee).

Learn more about naloxone and how you can use it to save a life at this link.

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Documented Lives Saved
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Individuals Trained on Overdose Reversal

Regional Overdose Prevention Specialists (ROPS)

Since 2017, Tennessee’s Save A Life project has funded regional overdose prevention specialists throughout the state. These ROPS serve as a point of contact for training and education on opioid overdose and for overdose prevention through the distribution of naloxone. Currently, the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services has a total of 25 ROPS operating in 13 regional divisions across the state.

Harm Reduction

Harm Reduction is a practical and evidence-based approach that incorporates effective community-driven strategies to reduce harms associated with drug use. It emphasizes engaging directly with people impacted by drug use to prevent overdose and infectious disease transmission; improve physical, mental, and social wellbeing; and offer low barrier options for accessing health care services. ​In Tennessee, there are numerous organizations and state sponsored activities that practice the principles of harm reduction.

This section will highlight some programs and services important to harm reduction in Tennessee: Syringe Service Programs (SSPs), Medication to treat opioid use disorder (MOUD), and End the Syndemic Tennessee- all of which serve a meaningful role in Tennessee communities.

What Is A Syringe Services Program?

Syringe services programs (also known as SSPs) are evidence-based public health programs that provide low barrier comprehensive harm reduction services, including:

  • Linkage to substance use disorder treatment and mental health care
  • Access to and safe disposal of sterile syringes and injection equipment
  • Access to and training on naloxone and overdose prevention education
  • Access to infectious disease testing and linkage to infectious disease care, such as HIV and hepatitis C services
  • Linkage to supportive services like housing and food assistance

SSPs are more than just needles, they aim to provide high-quality care to testing, prevention, and treatment services by collaborating with participants to identify their individual needs.​ There has been over 30 years of research that demonstrate the effectiveness of SSPs and their life saving abilities by increasing access to treatment services, overdose prevention tools and education, reducing the transmission of HIV, hepatitis C and other infectious diseases through sterile equipment access, and reducing syringes and needlestick injuries in the community through safe disposal.

Click the graphic below to learn more about how SSPs benefit communities.

Medications to Treat Substance Use Disorder (SUD)

There are safe and effective ways to recover from substance use disorders. Finding the right treatment option can be the key to an individual’s health and wellbeing. The FDA has approved several different medications to treat opioid use disorders (MOUD) and alcohol use disorders (MAUD). These medications are evidence-based treatment options, not a substitute of one drug for another. The use of these treatment options may be temporary or long-term, it all depends on individual need.

Medications to Treat Opioid Use Disorder (MOUD):
Medications to treat Opioid Use Disorder (MOUD) help to restore brain chemistry by blocking the euphoric effects of alcohol and opioids, relieving physiological cravings, and regulating body functions in the absence of the substance once used. Despite proven effectiveness, only 1 in 4 adults who needed opioid use disorder treatment receive medications for it.

Buprenorphine, methadone, and naltrexone are medications used to treat OUD and are useful treatment options for people who use opioids such as heroin, morphine, and codeine, as well as semi-synthetic opioids like oxycodone and hydrocodone. MOUD is effective in helping people stay in treatment longer and they reduce the risk of opioid-involved overdose. These medications are safe to use for months, years, or even a lifetime.

Medications to Treat Alcohol Use Disorder (MAUD):
Direct involvement of physicians and other health care professionals in identifying and treating alcohol use disorder is possible, practical, and useful. These medications are approved by the FDA and effective in the management of alcohol dependence and work to prevent alcohol reuse.

Common Medications to Treat Opioid Use Disorder

Buprenorphine is a Schedule III opioid narcotic that can be used in an Opioid Treatment Program setting. It can also be prescribed by specially-trained physicians and filled at a pharmacy. Buprenorphine is a “partial opioid agonist.”

This means that it works similarly to methadone, but it does not cause a full opioid response in the body. This should not be confused with potency, however. Buprenorphine is a strong medicine and should only be used for patients with known history of opioid use.

Methadone is a long-acting opioid used to treat addiction in Opioid Treatment Programs.

The aim of methadone treatment is to prevent withdrawal symptoms and to reduce cravings for opioid drugs. Methadone is a Schedule II opioid narcotic with potency that varies from patient to patient. Due to risk of overdose, doctors prescribe a low dose to begin treatment and observe patients closely.

The Division of Alcohol and Drug Substance Abuse Services is responsible for oversight of Tennessee’s opioid treatment programs also known as medication-assisted treatment programs. The State Opioid Treatment Authority within the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services is responsible for program oversight and clinical assistance. Specifically, the State Opioid Treatment Authority is responsible for providing administrative, medical, and pharmaceutical oversight to certified opioid treatment programs, including, but not limited to planning, developing, educating, and implementing policies and procedures to ensure that opioid addiction treatment is provided at an optimal level.

Naltrexone comes as a tablet or long-acting injection. It is not a controlled substance.

Naltrexone is an “opioid antagonist” which means its effects are opposite of narcotic drugs. Naltrexone has been shown to be effective at encouraging sobriety and reducing substance abuse.

Naltrexone may be available through your regular doctor’s office.

Common Medications to Treat Alcohol Use Disorder (MAUD)

Disulfiram is a medication that treats chronic alcoholism. It is most effective in people who have already gone through detoxification or are in the intitial stage of abstinence. 

This drug is offered in tablet form and is taken once a day. Disulfiram should never be taken when intoxicated and it should not be taken for at least 12 hours after drinking alcohol.

Unpleasant side effects (nausea, headache, vomiting, chest pains, difficulty breathing) can occur as soon as ten minutes after drinking even a small amount of alcohol and can last for an hour or more. 

Acamprosate is a medication for people in recovery who have already stopped drinking alcohol and want to avoid drinking. It works to prevent people from drinking alcohol, but it does not prevent withdrawal symptoms after people drink alcohol.

It has not been shown to work in people who continue drinking alcohol, consume illicit drugs, and/or engage in prescription drug misuse. 

The use of Acamprosate typically begins on the fifth day of abstinence, reaching full effectiveness in five to eight days. It is offered in tablet from and taken three times a day, preferably at the same time every day. 

The medication side effects may include diarrhea, upset stomach, appetite loss, anxiety, dizziness, and difficulty sleeping.

When used as a treatment for alcohol dependency, naltrexone blocks the euphoric effects and feelings of intoxication. 

This allows people with alcohol addiction to reduce their drinking behaviors enough to remain motivated to stay in treatment, avoid relapses, and take medications.

End the Syndemic Tennessee

In Tennessee, many of the same people and communities are disproportionately impacted by HIV, sexually transmitted infections, substance use misuse, and viral hepatitis​. Overlapping epidemics like these that have common underpinning social determinants of health driving them are called a syndemic.

End the Syndemic Tennessee, also known as ETS, is a movement to address the HIV, sexually transmitted infections, substance use disorder, and viral hepatitis syndemic in Tennessee through thoughtful and community-driven programing.  To do this, ETS held over 80 community planning meetings and conducted a Statewide Syndemic Needs Assessment to identify gaps in services.  Read the results of this needs assessment at the link below.

Additional Resources


TENNESSEE REDLINE: 1.800.889.9789
CALL or TEXT (Toll Free 24/7)

The Tennessee REDLINE is a toll-free information and referral line that provides accurate, up-to-date alcohol, drug, problem gambling, and other addiction information and referrals to all citizens of Tennessee at their request.

The REDLINE provides referrals for co-occurring alcohol and drug disorders that arise along with mental health disorders.

The 988 Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones.  Call or text 988 and press 0 to connect with a crisis counselor or chat with is a real-time substance use disorder treatment directory for Tennessee. The website allows users to search for treatment options based on specific needs, treatment, payment, and insurance options. Visit Find Help Now TN for more information.

Las llamadas son gratuitas desde cualquier teléfono en los Estados Unidos.

Nuestras líneas funcionan las 24 horas todos los días de la semana, de modo que usted puede ponerse en contacto con una persona capacitada en cualquier momento en que lo necesite.

Su llamada es confidencial; esto significa que la persona que le escucha hará todo lo posible por no divulgar su identidad.

Prestamos servicios en inglés (1-800-273-8255) y en español (1-888-628-9454)

Somos la única red nacional de respuesta a situaciones de crisis con financiación del Gobierno Federal.

The Tennessee department of Mental health and Substance Abuse Services is proud to offer the TNRecover app.

This app is designed for people in recovery from substance use disorder or for people looking to get more information on preventing addiction. The TN recover app is available for download in the Apple Store for iOS devices or the Google Play Store for Android devices.

Text SAVE to 30678 to download the free TN Recover app.

Contact the Regional Overdose Prevention Specialist (ROPS) in your area.  Click here to view ROPS contact map.

Find a Syringe Services Program in your area.  Click here to find a location.