137 overdose deaths in Northeast Tennessee in 2017, highest total in Sullivan County


Data from the Tennessee Department of Health shows more people died from drug overdoses in 2017 than ever before.

In 2017, the Tennessee Department of Health reported 1,776 deaths were from drug overdoses, over 1,200 of those deaths were related to opioids.

News Channel 11’s Caroline Corrigan reached out the Tennessee Department of Health to find out how many of these drug overdose deaths were in our region.

According to the Tennessee Department of Health, 137 people died from a drug overdose in Northeast Tennessee, 42 were in Sullivan County.

For Rhonda Coffey, those numbers hit home.

“David overdosed on a combination of drugs of Meth, Heroin and the diet pill Phentermine,” Coffey said.

Coffey’s son David died from an overdose in July 2015.

Since then, she says she’s worked to secure grant money to supply Sullivan County deputies with NARCAN, a drug that can reverse an overdose.

WJHL: What comes to your mind when you see these numbers?

“Anger and sadness,” Coffey said. “The realization that we are still not getting this right, we have to get this right. It takes government involvement to make the changes, no one single person can change this.”

It’s a pain that’s too common in our region.

Brianne Dunnings, an overdose specialist at the Sullivan County Anti-Drug (SCAD) Coalition, said she joined after the death of brother, Aaron.

She said her 24-year-old brother overdosed on Oxycodin in 2009.

She said she is working to fight the drug epidemic that’s claiming lives in our region.

“I think it’s just a lack of education on everyone’s part. Everyone has a hand on it, everyone can prevent it,” Dunnings said. “The more people we educate, the better we feel we are getting at stopping this where it starts because you can’t be in treatment if you’re dead.”

Deaths by drug overdose in 2017

  • Carter County    21
  • Greene County  21
  • Hawkins County 9
  • Johnson County 1
  • Sullivan County  42
  • Unicoi County    10
  • Washington County 33

News Channel 11 reached out to Sullivan County District Attorney General Barry Staubus regarding the high number of drug overdose deaths in our region.

Staubus said based on what he’s seen this year, he thinks the number of drug overdose deaths will be higher in 2018.

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