Tennessee governor fights back against opioid addition

Published 8:55 am Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Tennessee has an opioid crisis, which now claims more lives than car accidents. More than 1,600 residents died from drug overdoses in 2016. There were more opioid prescriptions than people in Tennessee in 2015. Between 2010-2015, opioid abuse claimed the lives of 6,039 Tennesseans, earning the state the ill-fated distinction of having the second highest rate of prescriptions per capita in the nation.
Educating children, making overdose-reversing drugs available to all state troopers and adding hundreds of prison beds to treat those fighting opioid addiction are part of Gov. Bill Haslam and legislative leaders’ comprehensive $30 million proposal to combat the epidemic. The governor unveiled his proposal Monday.
The proposal comes as Tennessee continues to fight the ongoing crisis, which now claims at least three lives a day in Tennessee.
While there are local, state, and national efforts to stem the tide, they still are not enough to tame what is Tennessee’s No. 1 public health crisis, which is taking a grave economic, societal and emotional toll on families.
“It is no secret our country faces a huge challenge in the opioid epidemic,” Haslam said at a Monday press conference unveiling the initiative. “Tennessee unfortunately is not an exception to the problem.” The plan — dubbed “TN Together” — will be funded with both federal and state dollars and consist of three main components: prevention, treatment and law enforcement.
The largest component is focused on treatment. The proposal calls for $25 million in state and federal funding to be directed toward paying for treatment and recovery programs for people who cannot afford them. The latest estimates indicate as many as 300,000 Tennesseans are misusing drugs, with 82,000 addicted to drugs, she said.
The opioid plan also includes adding recovery specialists to emergency rooms and supplying naltrexone, a medication that eases cravings for the drug, to the state’s drug recovery courts and county jails.
On the prevention side, the proposal includes a plan to limit an initial opioid prescription to a five-day supply, with “appropriate exceptions.” Those exceptions would apply to TennCare enrollees as well. The opioid plan is among Haslam’s top legislative priorities for the session and will likely be prominently featured in the governor’s final State of the State speech, which is set for Jan. 29.
Opioid abuse is not just a Tennessee problem. One third of the United States’ population lives with chronic pain, and medication is sometimes the answer. But, there are more taking the drugs than just those who need them.
The opioid epidemic is, indeed, a national emergency. It is a health care crisis that is deadlier than any hurricane, fire or terrorist attack. It must be addressed by strong, committed and consistent national leadership that goes beyond formal declarations and the recitation of grim statistics.
The epidemic didn’t happen overnight, and it will not be solved in one day. Over the course of a decade, it has grown into a problem destroying lives not only in Tennessee, but across the nation, with no respect to age, race, wealth, or location.
This will not be an easy problem to solve, but we must have the resolve to continue to fight and serve the needs of those who most need help.

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