- In 2016: 64,000 drug users in America died from an overdose. This is more than the people who died in The Vietnam War in 19 years of war (2).
- In 2015: there were 30,900 new cases of Hepatitis C. Treatment is expensive but programs cover the cost if someone is drug free for 1 month (2).
Another, and often overlooked, way to fight the opioid epidemic is to support the Harm Reduction Coalition where they work on syringe access, overdose prevention, Hepatitis C awareness/treatment, drug information, SIF’s (safer consumption), and provide test strips for fentanyl. If addicts are given access to clean syringes, sterile water, tourniquets, sharps containers, and filters for IV solution then their chances of contracting HIV, sepsis, endocarditis, Hepatitis C, and MRSA are greatly reduced. At some point, addicts want to recover and they want to live again (2). We can at least provide access to clean needles so that drug addiction recovery is only about the drug, not also about fighting an infection or disease. “We need to help the living while they cycle through relapse and recovery (2).”
Harm reduction makes addiction “safer and more comfortable while in the throes of addiction (2).” Communities should help addicts “minimize the effects of drug addiction instead of ignoring them (2).” Mr. Wooten (a heroin addict in recovery) stated that he “Could not stop injecting but wanted to live (2).” He received access to access to Harm Reduction services and now he is in recovery, infection and disease free.
From the information I have, Nashville is the only city in Tennessee with 1 needle exchange program that is part of the North American Syringe Exchange Network. Tennessee passed a bill 2017 that allows statewide needle exchanges plus they have to offer counseling and treatment (1). The state will not provide funding for these programs. I live in Knoxville and from internet searches, I have not come across any needle exchange programs in my area. I believe we need to fund needle exchanges and add this program to Governor Haslam’s TN Together initiative.
Is There a Tennessee Shuffle?
Tennessee also needs to ensure that addiction centers are insured for treating the patient in entirety. Addicts know of the “Florida Shuffle” where your insurance runs out at one facility and you have to use again to qualify for treatment at another facility (2). As your representative, I will work with insurance companies to either stop or prevent a “Tennessee Shuffle.”
- Bundgaard, C. (2017, May 16). High hopes for Tennessee needle exchange programs to serve as ‘bait’ for treatment. WKRN. Retrieved March 25, 2018 from http://www.wkrn.com
2. Wooten, C. (2018, March 23). Quitting heroin in the sunshine state. New York Times. Retrieved March 25, 2018 from http://www.nytimes.com