Tennesseans Pause for International Overdose Awareness Day

Annual remembrance marks lives lost, progress to be made
Thursday, August 31, 2023 | 07:40am

NASHVILLE, Tenn.—On this International Overdose Awareness Day, August 31, Tennessee pauses to remember the neighbors we have lost to overdose deaths, lift up the families touched by tragedy, and celebrate the brave men and women who have survived overdose and are living examples of recovery.

International Overdose Awareness Day is a worldwide moment of reflection to share remembrances, reduce stigma, and celebrate victories on the road to recovery.  In Tennessee, overdose and associated deaths continue to claim too many lives.  In 2021, the most recent year of full data, 3,814 Tennesseans died from drug overdose.

In recent years, the emergence of new synthetic substances in the illicit drug supply have worsened the existing crisis caused by prescription opioids.  Department of Health data show an exponential rise in overdose deaths due to fentanyl going from 501 in 2017 to 2,734 in 2021.  The prevalence of these deadly substances and the fact that they are getting mixed into other drugs or pressed into counterfeit pill form means that it’s never been more dangerous to take substances that aren’t prescribed to you and dispensed by a pharmacist.

Read Governor Lee's IOAD Proclamation

Read Governor Lee’s Overdose Awareness Day Proclamation. Click this link or the image at Right.

“The overdose problem in Tennessee, the lives we’re losing, the families that are torn apart –that’s not someone else’s problem.  That’s all of our problem,” said TDMHSAS Commissioner Marie Williams, LCSW.  “We want to reduce the stigma of addiction and celebrate the courage that it takes to say, ‘I need help.’  Substance use disorder happens to people in all walks of life for any number of reasons, but the hope of a new life in recovery is real.  We see it every day.”

“We stand in unity with our State partners and all who have a stake in advocating for compassion, education, and harm reduction in combatting the tragic toll of substance misuse,” said State Health Commissioner Ralph Alvarado, M.D., F.A.C.P. “Let us recommit ourselves to the joint effort that is needed to save lives, reduce stigma, and create a healthier community, state, and world for all.”

“Drug overdoses continue to impact far too many families in our state,” said TBI Director David Rausch. “Today and every day, I’m grateful for our partners who continue to do everything we can to try to tackle this crisis from all sides. We can’t do it alone, though. If you need help, get it. And if you know someone struggling with addiction, do everything you can to convince them to take their first steps toward healing. Doing so might just save a life.”

As many lives as have been lost to overdose, tens of thousands of Tennesseans have been saved thanks to the hard work of the Regional Overdose Prevention Specialists.  Since October 2017, the ROPS have distributed more than one million doses of naloxone and trained hundreds of thousands of Tennesseans on how to reverse an opioid overdose and save a life.


With new legislation passed by the Tennessee General Assembly in the spring 2022 session, TDMHSAS has been distributing fentanyl test strips for the past year to great success.  The department distributed 125,000 test strips in the first year, and data collected from participants shows outcomes that surpass prior studies. Click this link or the image at right for a onepager on outcomes.

For Tennesseans who are ready to enter treatment, services are available even if you have no means to pay.  Call or text the Tennessee REDLINE at 800-889-9789 for a free and confidential referral to substance use disorder treatment services.

To mark the day, Tennessee’s Substance Abuse Prevention Coalitions, treatment agencies, advocacy groups, and local leaders have planned remembrance and awareness events across the state.  Find an event near you at TNtogether.com/ioad