The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported there were 70,237 overdose deaths in the United States during 2017 (https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db329.htm). The rate of death involving synthetic opioids other than methadone (such as fentanyl, fentanyl analogs, and tramadol) increased 45% from 2016 to 2017. Many states in the nation, as well as the federal government have put new methods in place to respond to this growing epidemic. 

This blog will focus on one of these efforts the state of Tennessee is using. 1,776 of overdose deaths in the nation occurred in the state of Tennessee in 2017. The rate of deaths there was 26.6 per 100,000. This was higher than the national average of 21.7 that year.  Tennessee has begun using Regional Overdose Prevention Specialists (ROPS) to provide resources and training to first responders and others who are involved in preventing overdose deaths. 

Kelly Smith is the Prevention Program Manager in the Division of Substance Abuse Services in the Department of Mental Health and Substance Services for the state of Tennessee. As the Program Manager of ROPS, Kelly manages the center for training and education on opioid overdose and overdose prevention. She primarily interacts with first responders and organizations who have a stake in preventing overdoses in the state.

In order to achieve their mission of preventing overdose deaths, ROPS increases public awareness, provides training, and administers naloxone to anyone interested or in need. Naloxone is used to reverse opioid overdoses by chemically blocking the effects and binding to opioid receptors.

According to the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, ROPS has actively saved more than 2,000 lives and administered over 35,000 units of naloxone. During regional training events, Regional Overdose Prevention Specialists address stigmas surrounding individuals suffering with substance use with compassion rather than judgement. Not only does ROPS train participants to increase public awareness for overdoses, ROPS also teaches them safe administration practices of Naloxone.

The primary recipients of prevention training or naloxone administration include first responders, those at high risk for overdose, family and friends of high risk individuals, and local organizations that seek to provide service for similar purposes.

When speaking with Kelly Smith, she stated that she relies on the community to help report valuable data that ROPS uses to conduct training events and operations. Each region of Tennessee has their own regional overdose specialist that you may get in touch with to learn more about the program or to get involved. She encourages the community to work together in order to fight this epidemic that is costing so many lives.

If you would like to know more about ROPS or talk to Kelly Smith, you may visit https://www.tn.gov/behavioral-health/substance-abuse-services/prevention/prevention/rops.html or email Kelly Smith at Kelly.E.Smith@tn.gov.

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