State drug abuse task force meets at ETSU

Published 9:29 am Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Since its creation earlier this year, the state drug abuse task force has worked diligently to tackle the epidemic of opioid and prescription drug abuse in Tennessee.
The seven-member group met with local officials Monday at Reece Museum on the East Tennessee State University campus
State House Speaker Beth Harwell (R-Nashville), who created the group, stated the task force is wanting to work alongside state and local officials to address drug addiction.
“We have some great people and great some groups across the state that are dedicating themselves to tackling this problem,” Hartwell said. “My hope is that this task force will look into the possibilities of pilot programs, measures results of these programs and determine best practices.”
According to the Tennessee Department of Health, 1,451 residents of the state died due to drug overdose in 2015 – noted as the highest annual number of overdose deaths recorded in state history. Of the 1,451 deaths, TDH indicated nearly 72 percent involved opioids. The number also moved the state’s five-year total to 6,036.
The highest amount of deaths per county came from Shelby County with 188 with Davidson County and Knox County not far behind with 157 and 153 reported fatalities. During 2015, Carter County received 12 confirmed deaths due to drug overdoses.
Speaker Pro Tempore and chair of the task force Curtis Johnson, Reps. JoAnne Favors, Curtis Halford, Dennis Powers, Cameron Sexton and Kevin Brooks were on hand for Monday’s discussion and learned of the different programs underway to help combat opioid abuse.
Dr. Robert Pack, ETSU Center for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment director, addressed the current status of the situation locally and stated that ETSU and their partnership with Mountain States and Frontier Health is looking to make an impact within the eight-county region that makes up Northeast Tennessee.
Thanks to the partnership, a research and health clinic was OK’ed and is set to open in the summer in Gray to help individuals battling with opioid dependency.
Pack added it was important to look at all options and that each individual looking for help is different – needing different treatment ranging from abstinence programs to medication to help break the addiction.
The creation of the clinic, he added, will not only allow help for individuals but give research for the future to see what steps can be taken to tackle the matter before addiction occurs.
Issue of battling through abuse is an important
Having the partnership is important, according to Alan Levine, president and CEO of Mountain States. Funds accrued from the center is going directly back into the facility to assist with research to help combat addiction.
Levine, who talked about his own daughter receiving assistance for addiction, added it was one of the goals of Mountain States and Wellmont to have a treatment city in place to help resident battling with opioid dependency. A concern raised by Levine was that if nothing is done, individuals battling through addiction could start moving to other drugs for cheaper prices, citing heroine as an example.
Other concerns raised during the discussion include Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) – a problem that occurs when a newborn is exposed to opiate drugs while in the mother’s room. Pack and Dr. Nick Hagemier joined in with Levine about stating that another initiative is to erase the stigma of discussing addiction.
Positives were also discussed with the rate of prescriptions of drugs going down, according to Pack. Angela Hagaman, NIDA-DIDARP program director for the College of Health and operations director for the Center for Prescription Drug Abuse and Treatment, also talked in length about different programs in place. Hagaman, who spearheaded the creation of the Carter County Drug Prevention Coalition, added the organization has qualified for second year funding and has seen success with the “Count It, Lock It, Drop It” program that stresses the importance of keeping prescription pill containers shut and locked away. The CCDP has also worked with the Elizabethton Police Department by providing Naloxone, a life-saving opioid used to combat opioid abuse in the county.
Rep. John Holsclaw and Rep. Matthew Hill, local representation for Northeast Tennessee, were also credited for their work by talking about the issues going on in the area.
The state task force was asked about possible funding from the state moving forward and Harwell added that funding may be hard to come by for the current budget, it could be looking at for the next fiscal budget.
Current legislation is already being tossed around the General Assembly but with these meeting, Harwell added the task force will look at other options in the future to help with addiction.
“Legislation has taken some very important steps to fight this epidemic but if additional legislation is needed, I want this task force to develop it,” Hartwell said.

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