The Tangle: Tennessee’s Opioid Crisis

“Like no other particle on earth, the morphine molecule seemed to possess heaven and hell. It allowed for modern surgery, saving and improving too many lives to count. It stunted and ended too many lives to count with addiction and overdose,” writes Sam Quinones in Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic.

That molecule—found in the seed pod after the poppy petals die—continues its centuries-old complexity. It has provided relief for millions. It has ensnared millions.

The current epidemic entered America through a snarled convergence of events: the creation and mass marketing of synthetic opiates such as OxyContin as nonaddictive; the establishment of pain as the fifth vital sign and the push to alleviate all pain; and reduced oversight into doctors’ prescribing behavior. As a result, opioid prescriptions in the U.S. tripled from 76 million in 1991 to 245 million in 2014.

In that unchecked growth, opiates caught millions of fathers, mothers, sons and daughters in the tangle of addiction. UT researchers, alumni and students are working to free the ensnared.


Fall 2018 Features

A Battle Worth Fighting
A discovery by UT Knoxville-based economists led to Gov. Bill Haslam developing a $30 million dollar plan to begin dealing with the opioid crisis.

Learn more about Matt Harris’ discovery

On a Mission
In the Tennessee county hardest hit by the opioid epidemic, UT Knoxville alumnus Dr. Geogy Thomas works to help the most innocent of victims—the babies addicted in the womb—along with their mothers and fathers.

Learn more about Campbell County

Increasing Incidents
With the majority of drug overdose deaths attributed to opioids, UT Law Enforcement Innovation Center partnered with BlueCross Blue Shield of Tennessee Health Foundation to do something about it.

Learn more about the LEIC

The UTHSC Center for Addiction Science is committed: Committed to research, treatment, outreach and education in this fight against drug addiction. “It’s a work in progress,” the center’s program director says.

Learn more about the Center for Addiction Science

Standing Up to Big Pharma
UT alumna and Knox County District Attorney General Charme Allen has taken the war against the opioid epidemic to the courtroom – the civil one.

Learn more by reading Charme’s story

Saving the Children
Each day, more than 1,600 American teenagers take a first step into a lifelong cycle of drug addiction. UT Martin alumni in Weakley County are fighting back.

Learn more about how UTM alumni are fighting back

He Had Enough
After UT Chattanooga student Austin Holdsworth lost his brother and friends to drug overdoses, he could not be quiet anymore.

Learn more by reading Austin’s story

Health Rocks
With the opioid epidemic killing more than 100 people in our nation daily, the UT Institute of Agriculture is fighting to end this crisis through education.

Learn more about how Extension and 4-H are making a difference

Own Your Truth
Generational addiction stalked the family of Miss Tennessee 2017 Caty Davis. But she didn’t back down. She owned her truth.

Learn more by reading Caty’s story



Resources to Help Combat Tennessee’s Opioid Crisis

Prevention Tips from TN Together

  • Set a good example for children. Actions are more persuasive than words.
  • Keep open lines of communication with children.
  • Monitor children’s whereabouts.
  • Maintain open communication with children’s teachers, counselors and friends’ parents.
  • Count pills every two weeks.
  • Keep pills locked up.
  • Drop off unused pills at police departments or other available pill takeback sites. Do not flush or throw away unused pills.

For more prevention tips, visit:

Warning Signs of Drug Abuse

  • Neglecting responsibilities at school, work or home.
  • Risk taking when using such as driving under the influence.
  • Legal trouble.
  • Stealing, including small items, cash and more.
  • Changes in appetite, sleep patterns, physical appearance.
  • Unexplained change in personality or attitude.
  • Sudden change in friends, favorite hangouts and hobbies.
  • Sudden mood swings, irritability and spaced-out or angry outbursts.

For more warning signs:

For more information, visit
For more information on Count It! Lock It! Drop It!

For help with addiction: UT Health Science Center for Addiction Science

TN Together

United Way: Dial 2-1-1 in Tennessee for free, statewide information and referral line.

National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence: 1-800-622-2255

National Institute on Drug Abuse: 1-800-662-4357