Know Your Script:
Understanding the Opioid Epidemic
Shelby County Tennessee


The Opioid Epidemic

On average, 115 Americans die every day from opioid overdose. Opioid-related deaths are consistently rising throughout Shelby County, with rates doubling in just three years. There were 854 opioid-related emergency department visits in Shelby County in 2018 alone, and in 2017 more Shelby County residents died from opioid overdose than in car accidents. If nothing is done to combat this epidemic, it will continue to get worse in our community; It is projected that by 2020, more than 250 opioid-related deaths will occur on a yearly basis in Shelby County.

 Opioid misuse and abuse does not discriminate: it affects all ages, races & ethnicities, genders, and economic backgrounds. It is important for us to help people understand "opioid addiction can happen to any of us” and more importantly that opioid addiction is preventable. 

In Shelby County, there were...

Data Sources: 

Electronic Surveillance System for Early Notification of Community-Based Epidemics (ESSENCE) Emergency Department Chief Complaint data for Shelby County 2018

Tennessee Department of Health, Office of Policy, Planning, and Assessment - Division of Health Statistics, Death Certificate Data for Shelby County 2013-2018

Tennessee Department of Health, Office of Policy, Planning, and Assessment - Controlled Substance Monitoring Database 2018

*Data is updated every Friday

What you need to know:

What are Opioids?

Opioids are a class of drugs used to reduce pain.


For example, opioids may be prescribed for issues such as;
-back pain
-knee pain
-degenerative arthritis
-sports injury
-severe pain following surgery

Anyone who takes opioids can become addicted.

                                                                                                          Opioid pain relievers are generally safe when taken for short periods of time and as prescribed by a health care provider, BUT if taken in negligence, can lead to other problems. 

These substances are highly addictive, so they pose the threat of opioid addiction and  opioid use disorder (OUD) to any person who takes the drug for a prolonged period of time. Regular use—even as prescribed by a health care provider—can lead to opioid dependence and, when misused, opioid pain relievers can cause overdose incidents and death.

Want to Learn More? 

Listen to our new podcast series!!!

Opioid Stories is a 5 show podcast series that provides insight into the opioid epidemic locally in Shelby County TN. Hear from subject matter experts regarding the complexities associated with opioid use disorder. Also listen to the personal stories of how addiction has impacted the lives of people in recovery as well as family members. You can find Opioid Stories on Apple Podcast, Spotify, the Kudzukian Network or your favorite podcast provider. Click on the link below to listen to this powerful series.

Also, be sure to follow the Shelby County Health Department @ShelbyTNHealth on Facebook and Twitter to stay connected.

Opioid misuse or abuse can happen to any of us, no matter our age, sex, race, career path, income, or neighborhood.

Fight the problem, not the person.

Help Change the Narrative around Addiction

The shame and stigma that often surround substance use disorders can lead to people feeling isolated, hopeless, and unable to share their experiences with others. These feelings can create roadblocks to seeking treatment, support and recovery. For example, referring to people as “addicts” incorrectly suggests that those with substance use disorders have a choice, suggest addiction is not a treatable disease. Even more, such language connotes an immoral or criminal behavior. This language inherently blames people for their disease rather than seeking help for their disorder and reinforces the harmful power dynamics and marginalizing a vulnerable population.

Stop stigma and take a stand for person-first, recovery-focused language:

Instead of using this stigmatizing language:

Drug user/Abuser, Alcoholic/Drunk, Junkie, Addict, Drug Habit, Abuse, Problem, Clean versus Dirty, Relapse, Substitution or Replacement Therapy

Pledge to use this language instead:

Person with a substance use disorder, Substance use disorder, Use/Misuse, Risky/Unhealthy/Heavy use, Person in recovery, Abstinent, Not drinking or using drugs, Recurrence, Return to use, Positive or negative (referring to toxicology results), Treatment or medication for substance use disorder     

Commemorating all those lost to the Opioid Epidemic

You can make a difference.

In your Home:

Protect your family from opioid misuse and abuse. Remember to Count It!, Lock It!, Drop It!  with your prescription medications.


Make it a goal to count your pills every two weeks. This will prevent theft and help ensure medications are taken properly. 


Lock up your medications and store them in a secure place that others would not think to look.


 Drop off your unused or expired medications for proper disposal at drop boxes located in participating law enforcement offices or pharmacies. Find a drop off location near you in the map below.

In your Health Care Provider's Office:

Talk to your health care provider about any and all side effects and concerns.

Ask for other treatment options for pain management. 

Follow up regularly with your health care provider.

Tell your provider about your medical history and if you or anyone in your family has a history of substance misuse. 

According to the CDC, the number of people addicted to opioids is directly related to the number of oral opioids being prescribed by medical and dental care providers for pain. You can help prevent this by asking your provider to prescribe over-the-counter Ibuprofen and Acetaminophen together. This combination has been shown to be more effective at relieving pain than many prescription opioids, and poses zero risk of developing drug addiction. This graph presents a summary of the Cochrane reviews observing efficacy of medications in acute pain management.

In your Community:

Help your community learn the facts about the opioid epidemic in Shelby County, TN. Have an upcoming event at a community group, house of faith, or neighborhood meeting? Call our speakers' bureau for an educational session.

Please call us at (901) 222-9000 or email us at

Are you or a loved one struggling with                                 opioid misuse or abuse? 

The Tennessee REDLINE is a toll-free information and referral line coordinated by the Tennessee Association of Alcohol, Drug & Other Addictive Services (TAADAS) and funded by the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. The purpose of the REDLINE is to provide accurate, up-to-date alcohol, drug, problem gambling, and other addiction information and referrals to all citizens of Tennessee at their request. The REDLINE provides referrals for Co-Occurring A&D disorders that arise along with Mental Health disorders. 

Treatment and other program referrals are made on the REDLINE. Callers are provided with at least 3 referral sources when possible. REDLINE staff does not do therapy or counseling with the caller or substance abuser, but gives them the information to put them in touch with someone who will provide a diagnosis, prognosis or assessment of the mental or physical health of the substance user/abuser. The REDLINE strives to provide the caller with specific referrals based on their stated needs.

Opioid Epidemic Awareness Student Artwork

On Tuesday, June 19, 2018, students from the Memphis College of Art unveiled artwork designed to increase awareness of opioid use disorder. The images created by local Shelby County students are now being used as part of Shelby County's opioid awareness and education campaign. Photos from the unveiling can be found on our Facebook page.

The Shelby County Health Department wants to share this artwork with you!

If you or your agency is interested in utilizing any of this artwork, 
the Shelby County Health Department is happy to share it free-of-charge upon request! 
A simple usage agreement must be completed by the interested party.

This usage agreement only takes a few simple steps, and the link to request the agreement can be found here:

Frequently Asked Questions

Contact Us:

To reach out to the Shelby County Health Department for questions, concerns, assistance, or 

to schedule an educational session with our speakers' bureau;

Please call us at (901) 222-9000 or email us at

814 Jefferson Avenue, Memphis, TN 38105