Opioid Overdose Prevention

Drug overdoses represent a public health crisis in Shelby County. More Shelby County residents die of overdose each year than die in auto accidents. The Shelby County Health Department conducts public health surveillance on suspected drug overdoses in Shelby County; provides free harm reduction tools, including naloxone to reverse overdoses and fentanyl test strips; and links people living with substance use disorders to care in collaboration with community partners. The ultimate goal of the Shelby County Health Department Overdose Prevention project is to reduce fatal and non-fatal drug overdoses in our county.

Overdose Surveillance

Shelby County Health Department’s Bureau of Epidemiology and Infectious Diseases receives preliminary information from the West Tennessee Regional Forensic Center (WTRFC) about suspected overdose deaths. The Bureau of Epidemiology and Infectious Diseases also compiles reports of non-fatal suspected overdoses from several data sources. This data is provisional and subject to change, but provides a snapshot of overdose activity in our county to inform targeted intervention efforts in collaboration with community partners.

Provisional Opioid Data and Reports

Harm Reduction

Harm reduction is a set of strategies aimed at reducing the negative health consequences associated with drug use, including overdose. Anyone who uses drugs runs the risk of overdose. Effective public health strategies act to reduce the risk of overdose and other harm to the individual while providing linkage to treatment and other health care resources. 


Naloxone is a medication approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) designed to rapidly reverse opioid overdose. It is an opioid antagonist—meaning that it binds to opioid receptors and can reverse and block the effects of other opioids, such as heroin, morphine, and oxycodone. Administered when a patient is showing signs of opioid overdose, naloxone can save lives. 

Naloxone comes in two FDA-approved forms: 

  • Injectable – usually injected with a needle into muscle, but can be injected into a vein or under the skin.
  • Prepackaged Nasal Spray – an FDA-approved prefilled, needle-free device that requires no assembly and is sprayed into one nostril while the person lies on their back. 

Nasal spray naloxone is easy to use, and medical training is not required. Please watch this video that shows how to use the naloxone nasal spray

Opioid overdose is life-threatening and requires immediate emergency attention. Always call 911 after administering naloxone.  

Naloxone is not a cure for opioid addiction, and it does not prevent future overdoses. 

Naloxone won’t harm someone if there are not overdosing on opioids or other drugs, so it’s always best to use it if you think someone is overdosing.

Naloxone is effective if opioids are misused in combination with other sedatives or stimulants. It is not effective in treating overdoses of benzodiazepines or stimulant overdoses involving cocaine and amphetamines.
More information about naloxone from the Tennessee Department of Health in English and Spanish

Fentanyl Test Strips

The risk of accidental overdose is greater than ever because of synthetic opioids like fentanyl. Fentanyl is up to 100 times more potent than heroin and is the most common drug involved in overdose deaths. Just 3 milligrams of fentanyl can kill an adult. 

Courtesy: New Hampshire State Police Forensic Laboratory

Powdered fentanyl looks identical to heroin. It is commonly mixed with other drugs including heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine Fentanyl is also sometimes pressed into pills made to look like popular prescription drugs like Xanax and oxycodone. The counterfeit pills are almost indistinguishable from the real prescription drugs but may contain a deadly quantity of fentanyl. That is why Shelby County Health Department, and its partnering agencies provide fentanyl test strips.

Fentanyl test strips are a low-cost method of helping prevent drug overdoses and reducing harm. They are small strips of paper that can detect the presence of fentanyl in other drugs (cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin, etc.) and drug forms. Fentanyl test strips provide people who use drugs and communities with important information about fentanyl in the illicit drug supply so they can take steps to reduce risk of overdose.

Link to more information about fentanyl and fentanyl test strips

Harm Reduction Kits

Shelby County Health Department provides free harm reduction kits that contain two doses of naloxone and 10 fentanyl test strips, along with instructions for using them. Free harm reduction kits may be picked up at the following locations:

Shelby County public health clinic sites:

  • Shelby Crossing Clinic:
    1826 Sycamore View, Memphis, TN 38134
  • Hickory Hill Clinic 
    6590 Kirby Center Cove, Memphis, TN 38115
  • Millington Clinic:
    8225 US-51, Millington, TN 38053
  • Cawthon Clinic
    1000 Haynes Street, Memphis, TN 38114
  • Southland Mall Clinic:
    1278 Southland Mall, Memphis, TN 38116