State Undercounting Drug Overdose Deaths

Eddie Davis takes notes at every death scene in Hamblen County. He’s served as coroner for 20 years. He counted 28 fatal drug overdoses in his county two years ago. The Tennessee Department of Health counted six.
More from Matt Lakin’s story:
“I don’t know how they’re keeping their numbers, but that’s ridiculous,” Davis said.
“They’re at least three or four times off. We’re a county of a little over 50,000 people, and we’re averaging about one case a week of either suspected or known overdoses. We had 53 last year. In the first nine months of this year we had 43. We’ve had about 250 in the past 10 years, and the number’s growing.”
He and others believe Tennessee’s system of reporting and investigating deaths grossly undercounts the number of fatal overdoses each year. The critics range from police to medical professionals, who say the official numbers paint a shallow portrait of the state’s most deadly drug problem.
“We don’t have a consistent system of reporting,” said Elizabeth Sherrod, coordinator of the Tennessee Drug Diversion Task Force. “We don’t have a clear picture, because there’s no agency tracking that. It is a money issue. If police or a family don’t get an autopsy done, we don’t have that information. If we could just get toxicology screens done in every (death) case, I think we would see we’re not too far behind Florida, and they’re losing seven people a day.”
Numbers like those would translate to more than 2,500 deaths a year, shoving car wrecks aside and placing overdoses close behind heart disease and cancer as one of the state’s top killers. Police say they’ve known it for years — and been waiting for an outcry that never came

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