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Nashville's overdose crisis has quickly become a poisoning problem, loved ones say

Frankita Davis, pictured with her mother Betty, died in March after taking a fentanyl-laced pill. She is one of the 712 suspected drug overdoses from 2021.
Courtesy Betty Davis
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Frankita Davis, pictured with her mother Betty, died in March after taking a fentanyl-laced pill. She is one of the 712 suspected drug overdoses from 2021.

There were 712 suspected overdose deaths in Davidson County last year. And Betty Davis’ daughter was one of them.

“I went in her bedroom on the 16th of March to find her transitioned,” she says.

Nashville set another record in 2021 for overdose deaths. Year-end figures released Thursday show a 15% increase from 2020, which was also a record high.

And loved ones of the victims say the crisis has morphed into a poisoning problem.

fentanyl prevalence chart metro public health dept
Courtesy Metro Public Health Department
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Davis’ 26-year-old, Frankita, lived with several ailments that meant she relied on pain medication. And when she’d run out, she’d turn to a friend.

This time, the pills she got weren’t what they looked like. They had enough fentanyl to kill her. The potent drug now plays a role in three-quarters of all Nashville overdose deaths.

“Those are deliberate murders,” Davis says. “There’s nothing accidental about making a pill, lacing it with fentanyl and selling it to someone. It’s no accident by no means.”

Davis, who has since connected with other surviving family members, says so many overdoses are nothing more than poisonings for which someone should be prosecuted. As recently as December, Metro Police charged someone with 2nd degree murder for distributing fentanyl that led to an overdose death. However, at least in her case, Davis says police have not pursued charges.

There are an increasing number of stories that are less tales of active addiction and more of one-time incidents.

Isiah James, who went by Tre, died August 20, 2019. His mother was in the house at the time. She found him with his nose and mouth full of foam.

Angela Covington-James says she didn’t have naloxone to reverse the overdose, though she carries it now. He had been battling some depression and took a pill that apparently contained fentanyl.

“We were taught not to take candy from strangers,” she says. “It’s now don’t take medicine from anyone.”

Fatal overdoses have steadily grown in Nashville, jumping 15% in 2021 to a new high. However, the numbers have not been finalized and may change once death investigations are complete.
Courtesy Metro Public Health Department /
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Fatal overdoses have steadily grown in Nashville, jumping 15% in 2021 to a new high. However, the numbers have not been finalized and may change once death investigations are complete.

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