Fentanyl Use And Overdoses On The Rise In Chattanooga

Image Credit: cdc.gov

The Tennessee Conservative [By Paula Gomes] –

According to Chattanooga police, fentanyl use has increased in a significant way over the last few years. This means the number of fatal drug overdoses is also on the rise.

Debra Clark has made it her life’s work to break the stigma of substance abuse, and thereby prevent more deaths, after experiencing the tragic loss of her son T.C. to a drug overdose.

Clark’s son was just 25 years old when she lost him to a fentanyl overdose in 2019. Clark says that she thinks about T.C. every day. “It’s a constant thing. It never goes away. It never ever goes away.”

Clark now works with the Hamilton County Coalition as an overdose prevention specialist.

Data from the Chattanooga Police Department shows that drug overdose deaths are increasing with the prevalence of fentanyl abuse. In 2017, total overdose deaths in Chattanooga were 17. By 2021, that number had risen to 108. As of May 2022, there are already 44 deaths recorded for the year.

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Calandra Smith, Programs Manager for Intervention & Prevention Services with the Hamilton County Coalition says that more drugs are being laced with fentanyl than ever before. “You never know how much you’re going to get,” she said. “And it’s such a strong medication, it’s not meant to be used in that way. And so unfortunately you see overdoses and you see overdose deaths.”

The Coalition works collaboratively to provide education and awareness surrounding substance abuse prevention and also helps those who are abusing substances.


In an interview with News Channel 9, Smith said, “One of the first things to combatting overdoses is learning and recognizing the signs of an overdose.” Some of those signs include clammy skin, changing colors, not breathing, unresponsiveness and unconsciousness.

Both Smith and Clark want to see drug users get the help they need to recover from substance abuse disorders. “But we do have to keep them alive until we can get them to that point,” said Clark.

A new law signed by Governor Bill Lee last month aims to help decrease overdose deaths by excluding testing strips, used to determine whether a controlled substance contains a synthetic opioid, from the definition of drug paraphernalia.

Smith said, “I think the goal is to let individuals know what they have. And to just understand that there’s a higher risk with taking this medication.”

The exclusion does not apply if testing strips are possessed for purposes of a person’s commission of a drug-related offense such as manufacturing, delivering or selling controlled substances.

“If [it’s] used correctly, yes, it’ll save lives,” said Clark. “If it’s being used incorrectly to look for fentanyl, because that’s what they’re looking for, then that’s a different story.”

Free overdose awareness and substance abuse training is provided to anyone who is interested by the Hamilton County Coalition. Details are available at their website.

The Hamilton County Health Department’s Overdose Prevention webpage also has resources for anyone needing help to combat addiction.

About the Author: Paula Gomes is a Tennessee resident and reporter for The Tennessee Conservative. You can reach Paula at paula@tennesseeconservativenews.com.

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