We must do something NOW to stop the opioid epidemic in our community

Published 8:53 am Monday, August 27, 2018

Like much of Tennessee, Carter County is dealing with its own epidemic of prescription drug and opioid abuse.
The Tennessee Department of Health just recently announced that drug overdose deaths in the state increased last year to 1,776 — the highest number of such deaths in one year since reporting began.
Prescription drug abuse was also reported as the most common drugs associated with overdose deaths in Tennessee.
In Carter County last year, 21 persons died from drug overdoses — two up from 2016.
Drugs have a stranglehold on almost every community in the state. Take a look at the local Sessions Court docket each week. Many of the cases heard are drug related — possession of drugs, use of drugs, shoplifting, domestic abuse.
It does not end with criminal cases. There is the breakdown in families, emergency room visits, law enforcement responses, and yes, funeral notices.
It does not discriminate based on age, gender, profession, religion, socioeconomic status or race. It tears apart families, marriages and friendships. It doesn’t just happen in Chicago, New York City, or Los Angeles, it happens right here in Carter County. The numbers say so.
When I think of Carter County, I think of Roan Mountain, Watauga Lake, beautiful weather, and a safe community; not opioids, drug addicts and overdoses.
But, when I look at the news reports each week, my eyes are open to the severity of the opioid epidemic both nationally, and in our community.
The recent state report didn’t specify why the increase in overdoses. But one factor is probably the differences in availability of newer highly potent illegal opioids, such as fentanyl, which have been flooding the country in recent years.
It is easy for Carter Countians to overlook the opioid epidemic as being a problem. It is easy to close our minds to it. But, the problem is very real, prevalent, and a deadly issue that plagues not only this community, but our entire country.
What are we as a community and state going to do about the opioid crisis? First, the plan must include education and public awareness campaigns aimed at safe storage and disposal of pain meds, changing prescribing patterns and pain management techniques, and how to get help. Drugs are too easy to get.
Overall, we as a state and nation, are failing to adequately respond to the opioid addiction epidemic. It is concerning that we are no closer to solving this problem than we were 20 years ago. If anything, it is still getting worse. We talk a lot about it and there is a recognition that we need to do something about this problem. But, nothing yet has happened. Opioid use is still on the rise just as the death toll from their use has risen in the past year.
It is kind of like pointing to a burning building and recognizing there is a fire, and not calling the fire department. We just watch the building burn.
Some say the key is integrating addiction treatment better into the health care system. One suggestion is that emergency room staff need better training to make sure people with substance-use disorder get follow-up addiction treatment. Too often, addicts are simply revived and sent home without follow-up care, only to overdose again.
Drug dependence can happen to ​anyone. Many start with legitimate medical issues like the pain from back surgery or getting wisdom teeth removed.
The 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that 21.5 million Americans age 12 and older have a substance use disorder. Sadly, ​only 2.5 million received the specialized treatment necessary. There is help; support groups, drug drop-boxes, treatment facilities, detoxification centers, hotlines, and many trained professionals who are​ waiting to assist in the journey towards recovery.
By opening an educational, non-judgmental dialogue about the opioid problem, ​we can be on the forefront of de-stigmatizing addiction and promoting the numerous resources available to those who seek help.
Whatever, we must do something, and the time is now.

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