When the CDC reports that almost 4,000 Tennesseans died of a drug overdose in 2023, it can be easy to forget that each one of those numbers represents a human being that was found deceased, investigated by law enforcement, and analyzed by a medical examiner. Every death is an individual story, and each story is only known insofar as we have all the facts. Determining the facts comes down to forensics. And when it comes to the overdose crisis, with drug trends that are constantly changing, forensics is no simple game. Especially when it comes to new drugs like xylazine, designer benzodiazepines, and rare fentanyl analogues.
My guest this month is Chris Thomas, the Chief Administration Officer of the Knox County Regional Forensic Center, which serves 23 counties in East Tennessee as one of the state’s five regional forensic centers. From his bird’s eye view of the overdose crisis, he can tell us a lot about what’s happening on the ground, as well as where there are gaps in the system.
There are many valuable insights into the state of overdose forensics in Tennessee in this conversation, such as how medical examiners rarely get access to mental health records, or the proportion of traffic fatalities involving drugs, but the biggest takeaway for me was what the next wave of the drug crisis might be.
Hosted and produced by Jeremy Kourvelas. Original music by Blind House.
Knox County Regional Forensic Center