Publication Date


Project Category

Health Research

Faculty Mentor

Juliette Scantlebury, MD

Document Type



Prescription opioid deaths have tripled since 1999, and currently opioid overdose kills 115 Americans per day on average (1). Prior to 2014, prescription opioids have been the primary driver of opioid-related mortality. In recent years, the United States has seen a steady decline in the rate of opioid prescription. At the same time, there has been a significant increase in the number of deaths attributed to non-prescription opioids such as heroin, illicitly manufactured fentanyl, and fentanyl analogues. In 2017, among 70,237 drug overdose deaths nationally, 47,600 (67.8%) involved opioids, with increases across age groups, racial/ethnic groups, and county urbanization levels in multiple states (2). The opioid epidemic is especially profound in Tennessee, which had the 3rd highest opioid prescription rate in the country in 2017 and an opioid-related death rate of 19.3 deaths per 100,000 persons, compared to the national average of 14.6 (3).

This retrospective study analyzes autopsy data from West Tennessee Regional Forensic Center (WTRFC) from 2007 to 2017 to gain a better understanding of the effects of the opioid epidemic on West Tennessee and the surrounding areas. Data from opioid-related accidents and suicides were analyzed in order to identify trends in race, age, gender, location, types of opioids, and drug combinations involved in opioid-related deaths.