Press Releases

TN Health Dept. Warns of Cold Weather Dangers

Press release from the Tennessee Department of Health; March 3, 2015:

11 Tennesseans Tragically Lost to Hypothermia Since Start of 2015

NASHVILLE – The Tennessee Department of Health is urging Tennesseans to stay warm and protect themselves, friends and family members from deadly hypothermia as another round of severe cold weather impacts the state. A preliminary review of January and February 2015 fatalities indicates more than one-third of 30 cold weather-related deaths in Tennessee have been attributed to hypothermia, caused when the body’s core temperature drops to unsafe levels. Among the hypothermia deaths that have occurred, there appear to be no unexpected or previously unidentified individual risk factors. The long stretch of unusually cold weather caught many unprepared for the disaster.

“Hypothermia can happen to any of us, but people who are medically fragile, homeless, on certain medications and using alcohol are at greater risk than others and a caring person can help protect them,” said TDH Commissioner John Dreyzehner, MD, MPH. “Please think about friends, family and acquaintances that may be at greater risk, and make a plan to check on them. If you can’t do it yourself, call emergency services, local police or your local health department. If help is needed to assist someone else, emergency responders are here to make that happen. A phone call or conversation could mean the difference between life and death.”

Hypothermia can happen fast. Persons most at risk for hypothermia include those who:

  • take certain medications, like those used for behavioral health, that affect the body’s ability to regulate temperature
  • use alcohol, especially if intoxicated by alcohol and other drugs
  • are elderly or have medical conditions that may impair generation of body heat
  • live alone, are socially isolated or are homeless
  • have mental/behavioral health issues
  • are male (studies have shown males are more likely to be victims of hypothermia)

“A person can be developing hypothermia but not know it because confusion and amnesia are among the symptoms of the deadly condition,” said Paul Petersen, PharmD, TDH director of Emergency Preparedness. “Many mistakenly believe hypothermia only happens to people who spend long periods of time outdoors. In fact, it can happen to a person in a residence or structure that doesn’t have sufficient warmth, or in a vehicle lacking a working heating system.”

In addition to creating a system for checking on others, Tennesseans are urged to properly take care of themselves during extremely cold weather. Directions for avoiding hypothermia include:

  • If you have a medical emergency, or are worried about a friend or neighbor, don’t hesitate to call 911
    Dress in layers to retain body heat and limit time outdoors or in cold environments.  Wearing a hat or head covering is most important.
  • Come inside frequently to warm up. If your home or business heating system fails don’t attempt to “tough it out”; seek an alternative place to stay. Never use a power generator indoors; they can generate deadly carbon monoxide gas. Also do not use outdoor gas or charcoal cooking devices indoors.
  • Don’t drink alcohol. It provides a temporary sensation of warmth but long-term it causes your body to lose heat and can lead to hypothermia. Alcohol can also dull the senses, prohibiting clear-thinking when it is needed most.
  • If you must travel by vehicle, make sure you have life-saving necessities:  a functioning cell phone with a car charger; blankets; candles to generate heat and matches; a flashlight; food and water. Before getting on the road, let someone know your travel route and have him or her check on you to make sure you arrived safely.
  • Medical conditions or drugs you take may affect your body’s ability to regulate heat.  Some antidepressants, antipsychotics, narcotic pain medications and sedatives can change the body’s ability to regulate temperature.
  • Some health disorders can also affect your body’s ability to regulate its temperature, including underactive thyroid, poor nutrition, stroke, Parkinson’s disease, trauma, spinal injuries, dehydration, circulatory issues and other conditions.
  • Make sure you have someone that checks on you. Don’t be embarrassed to ask for an exchange of, “I’m okay” calls.
  • To find an emergency shelter in your area, call 2-1-1, your county emergency management agency or the non-emergency telephone number of your local police department. You may also visit

“Take care of yourself first so you can then help take care of others,” Dreyzehner said. “When you do a cold weather wellness check by phone or in person, invest a little time to truly make sure the person is okay and follow up with him or her later to make sure that person is still alright. If you suspect a person needs assistance, trust your instincts and seek help. You could save a life.”

Learn more about hypothermia at

Press Releases

TN Health Dept Warns Against Consumption of Raw Milk

Press release from the Tennessee Department of Health; February 23, 2015:

NASHVILLE – In the quest for good health, some may believe “100 percent natural” is always best. That belief, however, doesn’t take into account some life-saving scientific advances which have made many products safer without any significant effect on their nutritional value.

“Pasteurized milk is a prime example of one food that is much safer thanks to a simple heating process that destroys harmful bacteria,” said Tennessee Department of Health Commissioner John Dreyzehner, MD, MPH. “It has been recognized by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as one of the ten great public health achievements of the 20th century.”

John Dunn, DVM, MPH, director of foodborne disease prevention services for the Tennessee Department of Health, said drinking unpasteurized milk, sometimes known as “raw” milk, is “a spin of the roulette wheel” in how it may affect a person’s health.

“It’s true many people grew up on farms and drank raw milk from their cows and goats with no ill effects,” Dunn said. “It’s also true others weren’t as lucky, swallowing bacteria-laden milk that did great harm. Pasteurization destroys dangerous microorganisms without substantially altering the taste or nutritive value of milk.

“In 2013, we had one outbreak of nine children in Tennessee becoming extremely ill after drinking raw milk, with five of those requiring hospitalization and three developing severe, life-threatening kidney problems,” Dunn continued. “In that outbreak, E. coli 0157 in their raw milk put those children’s lives at risk.”

Infants, young children, older people and those with weakened immune systems are at the greatest risks of serious health complications if they consume raw milk or products such as cheese, ice cream or yogurt made from raw milk. Women who are pregnant should also avoid unpasteurized milk or products containing raw milk. Of particular concern are children fed raw milk by parents who mistakenly believe they are making a healthier choice for their families.

Bacteria in raw milk can create a multitude of illnesses and damage to organs. Common symptoms of illness from drinking contaminated raw milk include vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, headaches, fever and body aches. While some may respond to medical treatment, others may suffer irreversible organ damage or death.

It is illegal to transport and sell raw milk across state lines and many states, including Tennessee, have laws which prohibit the sale of raw milk to consumers. Some skirt the law by purchasing a share of a cow for their personal consumption.

“Some sellers tout cleanliness of their dairy operation or the health of their livestock, but the simple fact is all raw milk contains bacteria that pasteurization would destroy,” Dunn said. “Your best choice for healthy, nutritious milk is the pasteurized kind you find in grocery stores and markets. Choosing raw milk instead can be one of the unhealthiest decisions you make for yourself or your family.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has additional information on the risks of raw milk available online at

The mission of the Tennessee Department of Health is to protect, promote and improve the health and prosperity of people in Tennessee. TDH has facilities in all 95 counties and provides direct services for more than one in five Tennesseans annually as well as indirect services for everyone in the state, including emergency response to health threats, licensure of health professionals, regulation of health care facilities and inspection of food service establishments.  Learn more about TDH services and programs at

Press Releases

TN Health Dept: Suicide 10th Leading Cause of Death in TN

Press release from the Tennessee Department of Health; January 20, 2015:

Suicide Tenth Leading Cause of Death in Tennessee, U.S. & Internationally

NASHVILLE – In 2013, intentional self-harm was the tenth leading cause of death in Tennessee, a ranking that mirrors U.S. and international cause of death rankings. According to data from the Tennessee Department of Health’s Vital Records office, a total of 1,017 people in Tennessee committed suicide that year. Statistics point out disparities in Tennessee’s diverse population and the need to understand suicide warning signs and the actions required to prevent loss of life.

“Suicide is painful, and the pain of this tragic and preventable cause of death not only has obvious impacts to individuals and their families but also to friends, acquaintances and whole communities,” said TDH Commissioner John Dreyzehner, MD, MPH. “A suicide can also have impact through the years on family members who never met the person whose life was ended.”

While the suicides in 2013 reflect an overall rate of 15.7 per 100,000 people in Tennessee, that’s only part of the story. The data show more men than women and more whites than non-whites take their own lives. The most common profile of a person who commits suicide is a white male between 30 and 64 years of age. The data also show the rate of suicides fluctuates each year; the 2013 deaths were up from the 15.1 per 100,000 rate in 2009.

“Each of us can get better at spotting warning signs of suicide; it is preventable and as serious as a heart attack,” said Dreyzehner. “Take the risk factors seriously and ask, very simply and clearly, ‘Are you suicidal?’ If the answer is ‘yes’, get help, offer hope and alternatives, stay with the person and get assistance from family, friends and most importantly, from professional crisis intervention specialists. For immediate assistance, don’t hesitate to call 911.”

Professional crisis intervention specialists can be reached by calling the Tennessee Toll-Free Statewide Crisis Telephone Line, 1-855-Crisis1, which is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week. These services and immediate assistance can also be received by calling 911.

“We know untreated depression is one of the primary causes for suicides,” said Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services Commissioner E. Douglas Varney.  “It can be hard to recognize the warning signs that a person may attempt to take his or her own life. Additionally, many times people may not know there is help for someone dealing with depression or stress. It’s important to understand you are not alone; there are many individuals and organizations that can provide direction and assistance for you, a friend or family member.”

Common suicide warning signs include feeling hopeless or helpless; being sad or depressed most of the time; experiencing strong anger; talking or writing about death; withdrawing from family and friends; acting impulsively; losing interest in previously enjoyed activities; abusing alcohol and/or drugs; not doing well at work or school; reckless behavior; writing a will; and experiencing a change in eating and/or sleeping habits.

Tennessee’s suicide rate of 15.7 in 2013 compares with 12.6 for the United States that same year. Other suicide rates in Tennessee per 100,000 in 2013 were:

  • 30.3 for white males
  • 10.1 for black males
  • 7.1 for white females
  • 1.0 for black females

Suicide rates per 100,000 people for age groups in Tennessee in 2013:

  • 1.9 for 10 to 14 years
  • 9.5 for 15 to 17 years
  • 14.3 for 20 to 24 years
  • 14.5 for 25 to 29 years
  • 19.5 for 30 to 34 years
  • 22.0 for 35 to 44 years
  • 22.6 for 45 to 54 years
  • 22.4 for 55 to 64 years
  • 19.2 for 65 to 74 years
  • 20.6 for 75 to 84 years

“Healthcare professionals and counselors can often find a remedy to help people cope effectively with life’s challenges,” Dreyzehner said. “Sometimes that involves medicine; sometimes it’s conversation. The important thing is to know there are people who care and are able to help.” is a non-profit organization and website that maintains a list of additional state and national resources to help those with questions. A list of toll-free telephone numbers for assistance and services in Tennessee may be found at or by calling 1-800-SUICIDE.

The mission of the Tennessee Department of Health is to protect, promote and improve the health and prosperity of people in Tennessee. TDH has facilities in all 95 counties and provides direct services for more than one in five Tennesseans annually as well as indirect services for everyone in the state, including emergency response to health threats, licensure of health professionals, regulation of health care facilities and inspection of food service establishments.  Learn more about TDH services and programs at

Press Releases

Health Dept: Injuries from Falls Leading Cause of Death for TN Seniors

Press release from the Tennessee Department of Health; September 23, 2014:

Falls Prevention Awareness Day is Sept. 23, 2014

NASHVILLE – A simple fall may be just a nuisance for many people, but for a senior adult it can be a matter of life or death. Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam has declared September 23, 2014 as Falls Prevention Awareness Day to promote simple ways to prevent and reduce falls among older adults.

“Falls and the resulting injuries can lead to loss of independence for seniors and disrupt families,” said TDH Commissioner John Dreyzehner, MD, MPH. “For any of us, a fall can range from a brief embarrassment to a life change, all in an instant. This awareness day is an opportunity for everyone, but especially for older adults and their support communities, to learn how to reduce fall risks so our seniors can stay independent for as long as possible.”

Falls are the leading cause of emergency department visits, hospitalizations and death for Tennesseans over the age of 65. In 2012, there were 212,254 emergency department visits; 17,629 hospitalizations and 590 deaths due to falls in Tennessee. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates Tennessee spent more than $400 million in medical costs due to falls in 2010 alone.

TDH recommends the following simple strategies for preventing falls among older adults:

  • Exercise regularly
  • Have annual vision checks
  • Review medications with your health care provider to reduce side effects
  • Wear sensible shoes
  • Use a handrail when on stairs.
  • Always use another balance point besides your two feet. Make a pact with your spouse, a loved one, or a friend to hold on to each other while walking.
  • Perform a simple fall prevention checklist to reduce hazards. The CDC has a checklist available online at

In July, the Tennessee Department of Health trained 20 individuals to lead “Stepping On” classes. Stepping On is a comprehensive falls prevention program designed to change behaviors and increase self-confidence for people over 65 years of age and reduce the fear that leads to inactivity and withdrawal from social activities. Conducted by occupational therapists and other subject matter experts, the program consists of one two-hour session each week for seven weeks covering topics including appropriate footwear; household safety hazards; the effect of vision and medication management on fall risk; tips for staying safe outside the home; fall prevention strategies and how to cope if a fall does occur. Classes also feature fun, easy strength and balance exercises to improve mobility and self-assurance. If you are interested in hosting a class in your area, contact Terrence Love at

This year’s Falls Prevention Awareness Day theme, Strong Today – Falls Free® Tomorrow, highlights the important roles professionals, older adults, caregivers and family members play in raising awareness and preventing falls in the older adult population. Falls Prevention Awareness Day is sponsored by the National Council on Aging. Learn more at

Press Releases

Comptroller: Jackson Assisted Living Facility Misspent Most of Nearly $55K State Grant

Press release from the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury; August 6, 2014: 

The administrator of the Jackson Street Faith Home in Jackson, TN properly used just $85 of the $54,650 in state grant funds the home received to assist with the care and services of low income residents. A new investigative report from the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office reveals that much of the grant money was misspent or used for questionable expenses.

The Jackson Street Faith Home is a residential assisted living facility housing approximately eight full-time residents. The home received $54,650 in Quality Enabling Program (QED) funds from the Tennessee Department of Health, Division of Health Care Facilities over a three year period.

The Comptroller’s Office was asked to investigate after the Department of Health notified the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation about the alleged misappropriation of state grant funds. Investigators discovered a cash shortage of at least $38,235.43 as a result of misspending, falsified or no documentation, and documentation submitted outside the grant period. Investigators also identified $16,329.57 in questionable expenses.

The home’s administrator admitted using bad judgment and creating phony invoices that were submitted to the state as documentation. The Comptroller’s findings have been sent to the District Attorney General for the 26th Judicial District for consideration.

Comptroller investigators are recommending the Department of Health take steps to recover the QEP grant funds. The Department should also properly monitor grantee expenditures to provide proper accountability.

“It’s a shame that money intended to care for some of Tennessee’s most vulnerable and disadvantaged citizens was used for an administrator’s personal benefit,” Comptroller Justin P. Wilson said. “We must ensure state grant money is being used appropriately.”

Funding appropriations for the Residential Homes for the Aged Quality Enabling Program were eliminated by the Tennessee General Assembly in 2012. The Jackson Street Faith Home’s license was closed as of January 21, 2014.

To view the investigation online, go to:

Press Releases

Health Dept. Investigation Ties E.coli Ilnesses to Knoxville-Area Raw Milk Dairy

Press release from the Tennessee Department of Health; November 20, 2013:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee Department of Health confirmed today the strain of E.coli that caused nine children to become ill after drinking raw milk obtained from McBee Dairy Farm near Knoxville has been matched to animal waste collected at the dairy. Five of the nine children required hospitalization and three developed a severe kidney problem known as hemolytic uremic syndrome.

The TDH investigation involved an on-site inspection of the farm, interviews of 88 households that purchased milk from the farm and laboratory analysis of samples and materials to compare bacterial strains. Officials from the Knox County Health Department have been involved in the investigation and patient outreach efforts.

“This outbreak points out, again, the serious risks associated with drinking unpasteurized or ‘raw’ milk,” said TDH Commissioner John Dreyzehner, MD, MPH. “While people with stronger immune systems may be able to overcome the bacteria found in raw milk, children, older people, pregnant women and those with health conditions can be seriously harmed by bacteria in non-pasteurized milk products and should not consume them.”

“Milk from the healthiest-appearing cows in the cleanest dairy operations can still contain deadly microorganisms,” said TDH State Epidemiologist Tim Jones, MD. “Pasteurization, which simply involves heating the milk, kills these microorganisms and leaves the healthy nutrients. Those who consume raw milk are playing Russian roulette with their health; the glass they drink today may not have deadly microorganisms, but the one they drink tomorrow may cause serious health problems or even death.”

The mission of the Tennessee Department of Health is to protect, promote and improve the health and prosperity of people in Tennessee. For more information about TDH services and programs, visit

Press Releases

TN Distributing Oral Rabies Vaccines Along Borders for Wild Raccoons

Press release from the Tennessee Department of Health; October 1, 2013:

NASHVILLE – The Tennessee Department of Health is working with the United States Department of Agriculture again this fall to help prevent rabies by distributing oral rabies vaccine for wild raccoons along Tennessee’s borders with Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia. The annual baiting program administered by USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Wildlife Services, will begin in Tennessee on October 1, 2013.

“Control of raccoon rabies is vital to public health, and we are pleased to be part of this important and effective program to reduce rabies in wildlife,” said TDH Commissioner John Dreyzehner, MD, MPH. “Reducing rabies cases among wild animals helps reduce opportunities for transmission of this dangerous virus to people, pets and livestock.”

Vaccine packets are placed inside fishmeal blocks or coated with fishmeal as bait to attract raccoons. These baits will be distributed throughout a 15-county area in Tennessee to create a barrier against the spread of rabies. The barrier varies from 30 to 60 miles wide and covers approximately 3,400 square miles, running along the Virginia/North Carolina border in northeast Tennessee to the Georgia border in southeast Tennessee near Chattanooga.

Baits will be distributed by helicopter and by hand from vehicles in urban and suburban areas and dropped from specially-equipped airplanes in rural areas. This will be the first time baits have been distributed by helicopter in Tennessee instead of by ground in urban areas including Bristol, Chattanooga, Church Hill, Cleveland, Erwin, Greeneville, Kingsport and Johnson City. Baiting will be done by ground in portions of Hamilton County as a part of a research project.

The oral rabies vaccine will be distributed on the following schedule:

  • October 1 – 11: Carter, Cocke, Greene, Hamblen, Hawkins, Sullivan, Unicoi and Washington Counties
  • October 3 – 16: Bradley, Hamilton, Marion, McMinn, Meigs, Monroe and Polk Counties

“Rabies is most common in wild animals in Tennessee, and it poses a risk to humans and domestic animals that come into contact with wildlife,” said John Dunn, DVM, PhD, deputy state epidemiologist. “It’s important for pet owners to make sure rabies vaccinations are current for dogs and cats to ensure their health and safety, and help provide a barrier between rabies in wild animals and humans. It is also extremely important that raccoons not be transported from one area of the state to another.”

Rabies, once disease develops, is almost universally fatal. However, it is completely preventable if vaccine is provided soon after exposure.

This is the twelfth year Tennessee has participated in baiting with rabies vaccine to slow and possibly halt the spread of raccoon rabies. There have been no cases of raccoons with rabies in Tennessee this year. Since raccoon rabies was first detected in Tennessee in 2003, the disease has not spread as rapidly here as has been documented in other areas of the United States.

Although the vaccine products are safe, the USDA Wildlife Services program has issued these precautions:

  • If you or your pet finds bait, confine your pet and look for other baits in the area. Wear gloves or use a towel and toss baits into a wooded or fencerow area. These baits should be removed from where your pet could easily eat them. Eating these baits won’t harm your pet, but consuming several baits might upset your pet’s stomach.
  • Don’t try to remove an oral rabies vaccine packet from your pet’s mouth, as you could be bitten.
  • Wear gloves or use a towel when you pick up bait. While there is no harm in touching undamaged baits, they have a strong fishmeal smell. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water if there is any chance the vaccine packet has been ruptured.
  • Instruct children to leave baits alone.
  • A warning label on each bait advises people not to touch the bait, and contains the rabies information line telephone number.

For additional information on rabies prevention or the oral rabies vaccine program, call the USDA Wildlife Services toll-free rabies line at 1-866-487-3297 or the Tennessee Department of Health at 1-615-741-7247. You may also find rabies information on the TDH website at

The Tennessee Department of Health urges individuals to enjoy wild animals such as raccoons, skunks, foxes and bats from a distance and keep pets up-to-date on rabies vaccination to help prevent exposure to animals that can carry rabies. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a website to help educate children about rabies. Visit the site at

The mission of the Tennessee Department of Health is to protect, promote and improve the health and prosperity of people in Tennessee. For more information about TDH services and programs, visit

Press Releases

TN Launches Initiative to Connect Families with Newborns to Appropriate Services

Press release from the Tennessee Dept. of Health; September 30, 2013:

NASHVILLE – On average, more than 79,000 new Tennesseans are born in the Volunteer State every year. Now, First Lady Crissy Haslam and the Tennessee Department of Health will begin greeting each new arrival with a “Welcome Baby” package as part of an innovative new outreach effort. Welcome Baby is designed to help give Tennessee’s newest residents the best start in life by connecting children and families with appropriate services in their community, providing referrals to address family needs and screening babies and their families for potential risks.

“The arrival of a new baby is a joyous time, but it can also be an overwhelming experience for any parent,” said Haslam. “We want to provide Tennessee families with information and resources to help them do all they can to ensure these precious babies grow up to be healthy, strong and productive.”

Starting with babies born in October of this year, all new Tennessee parents will receive a Welcome Baby packet within a few weeks of the baby’s birth. The packet will contain a letter of congratulations from First Lady Haslam, information on the new kidcentral tn website, sign-up material for their local Imagination Library chapter and more. The launch of the Welcome Baby initiative coincides with Tennessee’s celebration of Child Health Week October 7-13, 2013.

In addition to receiving a Welcome Baby packet, some families will receive a follow-up phone call from a nurse and may be scheduled for a voluntary home visit by a local community outreach team member, with additional contacts made with the family during the first year of the child’s life to connect the family with resources. This outreach effort will begin in counties across the state with the highest rates of infant mortality, with the goal of implementing direct outreach in 32 counties by the end of 2013.

“Our Welcome Baby initiative is the next step in our efforts to reduce infant mortality rates and improve early childhood success in Tennessee by helping equip families with the knowledge and skills needed to raise happy and healthy children,” said TDH Family Health and Wellness Director Michael Warren, MD, MPH.

Welcome Baby is designed to screen families and children for risks at the time of a child’s birth; provide timely referrals to address family needs; connect children and families with appropriate services and improve utilization of community resources. Topics covered during outreach contact will include medical care, parent support, nutrition, safety, child development and smoking.

The mission of the Tennessee Department of Health is to protect, promote and improve the health and prosperity of people in Tennessee. For more information about TDH services and programs, visit

Kidcentral tn is a one-stop shop for Tennessee families to connect with important information and resources provided by state government departments. The website features a comprehensive directory of state services for children and families. Learn more at

Press Releases

Prescription Narcotic Reporting to Begin April 1

Press release from the Tennessee Department of Health; March 18, 2013:

NASHVILLE – Effective April 1, 2013, prescribers will be required to look up their patients in the state’s Controlled Substance Monitoring Database before beginning a new treatment with an opioid or benzodiazepine and at least yearly thereafter if treatment continues. The reporting will ultimately benefit all Tennesseans in helping to decrease the complex collection of problems associated with improper use of prescribed drugs.

“Just as we check for allergies before giving a medication intended to help a patient, medical professionals will now check the database to help prevent these powerful medications from causing harm,” said TDH Commissioner John Dreyzehner, MD, MPH. “We believe the April 1 requirement for clinicians to use the database will improve patient safety, provide opportunities for counseling and referral to treatment to prevent misuse and abuse of prescription drugs, and help to prevent the use of drugs for non-intended purposes.”

In 2011, a total of 1,062 people died from drug overdoses in Tennessee. The database will provide clinicians opportunities to identify patients with potential substance abuse or misuse issues so timely counseling and referral can occur to help prevent future deaths. This identification is critical when patients are women of childbearing age.

“Clinician-patient conversations are especially important among women of childbearing age,” said TDH Chief Medical Officer David Reagan, MD, PhD. “We unfortunately have a national epidemic of babies being born dependent on legal or illegal drugs their mothers ingested during pregnancy. At birth, the baby is cut off from the drug and goes through a painful process of withdrawal. The condition is known as neonatal abstinence syndrome or NAS, and it is painful for the baby and costly to society. In addition to the suffering of the infant, typical first year of life health costs for a baby with neonatal abstinence syndrome are nearly six times higher than for a normal baby.”

In 2011, Tennessee recorded 629 NAS births. Prescribers and dispensers of narcotics who have questions about the Controlled Substance Monitoring Database should call 615-253-1305 or visit

Press Releases

Health Dept. Reports Tainted Steroid Shots Connected to New Infections

Press release from the Tennessee Department of Health; December 6, 2012: 

NASHVILLE – Since Thanksgiving, the Tennessee Department of Health has resumed efforts to contact patients who received tainted steroid injections, believing some were at risk for new or additional infections at or near the injection site. That has, indeed, been the case as a total of 23 people have been identified as having new, localized infections. Altogether 107 persons in Tennessee have confirmed illnesses of some type associated with injections of contaminated methylprednisolone acetate from New England Compounding Center. No infections from other contaminated NECC products have been identified in Tennessee to date.

“We suspected, based on information from the Michigan Department of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that some people would develop new or additional infections, and that has proven true,” said TDH Commissioner John Dreyzehner, MD, MPH. “As of today, we have identified 23 persons who have developed these less serious infections at or near the site of their MPA injections. The early identification of these infections, made possible by a strong collaborative effort by clinicians, our department and the CDC, has helped several individuals get effective treatment at an earlier stage, thereby fending off a more serious illness.”

Most patients identified by TDH as being at risk for the localized infections were contacted within a few days by telephone calls. Others were sent letters and, where necessary, TDH staff will make house visits in Tennessee advising patients of the need for heightened awareness of new or worsening pain at or near the site of injection, numbness in the buttocks, loss of bowel or bladder control or new or worsening headaches.

Persons who believe they may be at risk should contact the clinician who administered the steroid injection.

Tennessee Health Commissioner John Dreyzehner, MD, MPH, has provided an update on the investigation of infections associated with tainted steroid injections. His statements from today’s media briefing are included below.

Statement by Commissioner Dreyzehner December 6, 2012:

Good morning and thank you for your continuing coverage of health problems associated with injections of contaminated methylprednisolone acetate in Tennessee and other states.

Before we discuss ongoing activities related to these fungal infections, we wish to extend our sympathies to those whose lives have been impacted by this outbreak. Although we near the three-month anniversary of when we first identified this outbreak, our concern for those affected has not diminished and we keep them in our thoughts and prayers.

We are today providing information on two subjects:

  • updated patient case numbers in Tennessee; and
  • information regarding other products from New England Compounding Center.

We’ll start with the patient case numbers update.

Today we report a total of 107 individuals have met the CDC case definition in Tennessee and 13 have died. Since Thanksgiving, we have identified 23 new cases. Note that the total number of cases reflects an important advance in understanding that the spectrum of infections associated with this outbreak includes more localized infections than previously appreciated. These new patient cases are reflective of our reactivation of close local public health follow-up and illness identification, in conjunction with our clinical partners.

Working with other healthcare partners, specifically the Michigan Department of Health and the CDC, we learned other states were also seeing an increase in localized infections at the original injection site. These infections include localized epidural abscess and arachnoiditis, an inflammation of part of the covering of the nerve roots which, though painful, is not life-threatening. Some patients were being identified much later than expected, suggesting that there may still be patients with treatable infections.

Consequently, we decided it would be appropriate to:

  • notify at-risk patients, making them aware of the ongoing potential for a localized infection;
  • tell them about the signs and symptoms they may experience with such infections; and
  • suggest evaluation and assessment by their clinicians if such symptoms occur.

These contacts were made rapidly, resulting in several individuals having additional tests and learning they have localized infections. For some, this is the only infection they’ve had; for others, the localized infection was in addition to the other, more serious infection they experienced.

Some of you may want to know how long we can expect to identify new cases of localized infections. We do not know the answer to this question with certainty. Nationally, the longest reported infection occurred 120 days after last injection.

Moving on to our second subject, as some of you may know the CDC and FDA have identified microbial contamination in unopened vials of betamethasone, cardioplegia and triamcinolone solutions distributed by NECC.

To date, CDC has no reports of laboratory confirmed bacterial or fungal meningitis, or spinal or paraspinal infections, caused by these products. We continue to remind clinicians to report all infections potentially related to NECC products to the FDA and to TDH. The latest such reminder was sent as a Tennessee Health Alert message Monday evening of this week.

We want to commend clinicians across Tennessee who have worked cooperatively with us to remove NECC products from their inventory of usable medications, and to report possible issues affecting their patients’ health. The State Health Operations Center and our Regional Health Operations Centers have experienced superb partnerships with many clinicians across our state in reaching out to and serving those affected by this tragedy. I would also like to commend our dedicated local public health staff.