Lundberg discusses opioid crisis, medical marijuana

Published 5:00 pm Wednesday, January 24, 2018

With the 2018 session of the Tennessee General Assembly now fully underway, one local lawmaker is hoping to make a difference in how the state battles the opioid crisis.

Prior to the start of the legislative term, State Sen. Jon Lundberg, who represents portions of Carter, Johnson and Sullivan counties, said he anticipated the Tennessee General Assembly would address the opioid epidemic with a variety of legislation.

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“It’s going to have a multi-faceted approach,” Lundberg said, adding legislation would have to address criminal charges, education, and accountability.

As the opioid crisis continues to ravage the state, there are victims of substance abuse who are battling addiction through no choice of their own, Lundberg said.

Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) is the term for the medical condition that occurs when a baby is born detoxing from drugs — whether it is illegal street drugs like methamphetamine or prescription medications such as opioid pain medications. The East Tennessee region has the highest rate of NAS births of any area of the state.

“In East Tennessee, we are all too familiar with NAS babies,” Lundberg said.

The number of NAS cases has increased significantly in recent years, which has led to some new issues that the state is facing.

“Now we have an emerging issue of NAS students,” Lundberg said.

As these children begin reaching school age, local school systems will be seeing an increase in the number of children suffering from the long-term effects of being exposed to drugs while in the womb, Lundberg said. Many of these children suffer from emotional or physical issues or may have developmental delays, he added.

“These are likely not temporary problems, and these are children that are going to be with us forever,” Lundberg said. “These students have these issues that are no fault of their own. It started with their mothers.”

In addition to battling the addiction crisis in the state, Lundberg said members of the legislature would also be debating another drug of sorts — medical marijuana.

Recently State Sen. Steve Dickerson (R-Nashville) and Rep. Jeremy Faison (R-Cosby) introduced the Medical Cannabis Only (MCO) Act through bills in both the Tennessee House and Tennessee Senate.

“We already have medical marijuana through cannabis oil,” Lundberg said. “Could it help some people? I’m sure it could. Could it be good for Tennessee? I don’t think so.”

Lundberg pointed to other states that have legalized medical or recreational marijuana, which he said have seen increases in the high school dropout rates as well as the number of teenagers using drugs.

“It hasn’t been a positive force for change in those places,” Lundberg said.