MEMPHIS, Tenn. — We in Memphis and Shelby County spend a great deal of time wringing our hands over what we see as an out of control homicide rate, and rightfully so. Deadly violence, particularly inside Memphis, has been a nagging problem for years. It’s one of the things that drags us down socially, even economically.
But there is another deadly scourge in Shelby County that does not get as much attention - the alarming opioid epidemic that continues to claim lives and ruin families.
In 2020 alone, there were 416 overdose deaths in the county, representing a 22% increase over the previous year. Almost all of those deaths were related to opioid abuse, which has been a huge problem statewide and even more so locally. In fact, more county residents died of an opioid overdose in 2017 than in auto accidents, according to health department data.
Now, the county commission is stepping up to help address the epidemic. Earlier this week, commissioners added nearly $170,000 to its operating budget to combat the problem. That’s in addition to more than half a million dollars from the state Health Department to fight opioid abuse in targeted communities. And more than $2 million the county has allocated in previous years.
The opioid epidemic is clearly a public health crisis. So is gun violence. Both must be addressed in separate ways. But both deserve our time and attention.