Tennessee's violent death statistics are fatally flawed

Dec 3, 2018

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (OSBORNE)  --  Tennessee has suffered an alarming spike in overdose deaths and suicides in recent years, but the actual number of such violent deaths could be significantly higher. 

Tennessee officials reported 1776 overdose deaths statewide in 2017, the highest number ever recorded. Just this past week the Center’s for Disease Control noted that Tennessee’s suicide rate has jumped 24 percent since 1999.


The actual number of such deaths may never been known. A recently released audit by the Tennessee Comptroller revealed that roughly one-in-five Tennessee county medical examiners are failing to file death investigation reports with the state as required by law.


Deputy State Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Adele Lewis says the problem can usually be traced to a lack of resources.


“Most frequently those are the smaller, more rural counties where they may only have one or two doctors in the county and people are already kind of stretched to their limit trying to perform their duties.”


The report says incomplete death reporting compromises the quality of data available on “emerging diseases, overdoses, consumer hazards, and other dangers to the public.”


The CDC launched a national database for reporting violent deaths in 2003. Tennessee is one of the last states to join the system and won’t begin reporting its violent deaths until January.


“We’re going to collect data and information on violent deaths that are occurring across the state, and have review team review those so we can get really deep down into that data.”

WMOT asked for a list of the counties failing to report deaths statistics as required. The Tennessee Department of Health denied the request.

Use the link below to listen to the complete interview with Dr. Lewis.