Opioid addiction continues to control our state and county

Published 10:22 am Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Each week we are reminded of the growing opioid problem in Carter County. The Carter County General Sessions Court must deal with cases every session that are drug related — from possession, use, and sale of methamphetamine to shoplifting cases, which can be traced to drug use.
The most recent data from the Tennessee Department of Health show that our state’s opioid epidemic is not only in full swing, but getting work. More Tennesseans died from drug overdoes in 2017 — 1,776 — than any other year on record, and prescription opioids are the most common culprit. That means nearly five Tennesseans will die from a drug overdose at the end of the day. The problem is so severe that more people in Tennessee die from drug overdoses than automobile accidents.
Opioids, methamphetamine, heroin — they are all drugs and they all kill and impair lives, break up homes, and lead to addiction. In 2017 there were 137 confirmed drug overdose deaths in Northeast Tennessee, 21 of those in Carter County.
There’s no debate that we’re in the midst of an epidemic the likes of which we’ve never seen before. But even as more than 30 Tennesseans will die from a drug overdose by the end of this week, too often those on the front lines of the epidemic — pharmaceutical companies, pharmacists, doctors, counselors, elected officials, and parents, to name a few — disagree on common sense measures that will work toward solving the problem. The truth is, there is not one magic solution to solve the prescription drug epidemic.
Pretending the problem doesn’t exist, or will go away on its own, certainly isn’t the answer. Continuing the conversation and having people recognize the dangers of addiction before ever touching the stuff is the best way to stem the tide before it gets worse.
The abuse of drugs leads to other problems, which the courts must deal with. Drug-related crimes increased by 33% from 2005 to 2012. During that same time, other crimes decreased.
Prescription opioid abuse has resulted in more children being removed from homes and entering state custody.
About 50% of the youth taken into Dept. of Children’s Services custody were removed from their homes because of parental drug use.
Drug addiction and opioid abuse is a disease every one of us is vulnerable to, not a moral failing. There are many people battling substance use disorders without seeking professional help, and many criminals willing to sell extremely dangerous pills, counterfeit pills, and gray and illegal substances.
You’ve probably read that 80 percent of heroin users started with prescription medications — and you may have seen billboards that compare giving pain medication to children to giving them heroin. You have probably also heard and seen media stories of people with addiction who blame their problem on medical use.
But the simple reality is this: According to the large, annually repeated and representative National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 75 percent of all opioid misuse starts with people using medication that wasn’t prescribed for them — obtained from a friend, family member or dealer.
The vast majority of people who are prescribed opioids use them responsibly — recent research on roughly one million insurance claims for opioid prescriptions showed that just less than five percent of patients misused the drugs by getting prescriptions for them from multiple doctors.
Many people would prefer it if we could solve addiction problems by busting dealers and cracking down on doctors. The reality, however, is that as long as there is distress and despair, some people are going to seek chemical ways to feel better. Only when we can steer them towards healthier — or at least, less harmful — ways of self-medication, and only when we reach children before they develop this type of desperation, will we be able to reduce addiction and the problems that come with it.
But, now is the time to do something about it. If you are one of those persons using opioids, only you can make the first move. It may be the most important decision you will ever make.

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