Tennessee has been one of the hardest hit states in regards to the opioid epidemic. Our states and many states in our country have taken measurable steps to reducing this epidemic but more still needs to be done. Here are a few highlights of what I talk about on the campaign trail:
- The CDC recommends that doctors prescribe first time opioids for 3 days. Tennessee doctors can currently prescribe them for 10 days. I think 3 days is plenty to start.
- Tennessee doctors need to think about alternate pain methods and non-opioid pain medications as a first line of defense as well.
- We absolutely need more medication assisted treatment (MAT) facilities available in our communities and we need to provide grant funding so more doctors can prescribe medication therapy. Currently only 5% of physicians nationwide can prescribe buprenorphine.
- We need to treat addiction as a disease. Someone going through relapse and recovery that gets arrested for stealing to pay for drugs should go to a treatment center, not jail.
- We need to provide MAT in our jails and prisons and E.R. departments.
- We need to provide clean needle exchanges to help the living during the throes of addiction. We have a high infection rate in our communities and this is due to using dirty needles. We are not enabling, we are helping addicts live until they can get clean and sober.
- We need to expand Medicaid so people with addictions can get the help and treatment that they need. How in the world are they going to pay for treatment and therapy without health insurance???
In 2016, Mr. Mitchell with the Clarion Ledger reported that 11 million abused prescription opioids, 1 million used heroin, and 2.1 million had an opioid use disorder from prescribed opioids or heroin. Unfortunately, only 1 in 10 actually gets treatment so easier access to treatment centers are needed. The article advocated for cautious prescribing and a plea to have drug manufactures pay for treatment, prevention, etc. (2).
In 2016, Mr. Nolan from Frontline reported dire facts about the opioid epidemic (3):
- Kills more people than cars
- Prescription rates in 1991 were 76 million, in 2011 they were 219 million
- 12 states had more opioid prescriptions than people. TN is one of those states with 142.8 per 100 people.
In January of 2018, Governor Haslam announced a $30 million investment to end Tennessee’s Opioid Epidemic that he calls TN Together. Haslam called for prevention, treatment, and law enforcement. For prevention, Haslam proposed prevention education for K-12, continued use of PDMP (prescription drug monitoring program), and cap initial opioid prescriptions to a 5-day supply at 40 MME (morphine milligram equivalent). For treatment, Haslam proposed to expand residential treatment and services and equip every state trooper with naloxone. For law enforcement, Haslam proposed to attack illicit sales and trafficking, and penalize unlawful distributors (4).
I support Governor Haslam’s plan to fight the opioid epidemic. I would also add that more needs to be done in the prevention area, especially with doctor’s prescribing habits. The CDC recommends that physicians use nonopioid therapy as a first line of defense. Only prescribe opioids for cancer, palliative care, and end-of-life care. And use pain management techniques such as prescribe Tylenol and Advil, physical therapy, exercise, and cognitive behavioral therapy. The CDC also recommends to use low dose opioids and immediate release instead of extended release pills (1).
I also believe that students would benefit from meeting addicts and recovering addicts through PSA’s or commercials. I remember the “Just Say No to Drugs” campaign when I was a child and the commercials of an egg in a frying pan with the tag line of, “This is your brain, this is your brain on drugs, any questions?” Maybe we need some campaigns like the Just Say No campaign.
As your House Representative, I will do all that I can to help fight this epidemic. I don’t have all the answers and all the solutions but I will do my best to figure this problem out and fight it.
- Centers for Disease Control (n.d.). CDC Guidelines for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain. Retrieved March 21, 2018 from cdc.gov
- Mitchell, J. (2018, January 26). With 175 Americans dying a day, what are the solutions to the opioid epidemic? Clarion Ledger. Retrieved March 20, 2018 from clarionledger.com
- Nolan, D. (2016, February 23). How bad is the opioid epidemic? Frontline. Retrieved March 20, 2018 from pbs.org
- TN Together (2018, January 22). Haslam announces aggressive, comprehensive plan to end Tennessee’s opioid epidemic. Retrieved March 21, 2018 from tn.gov/opioids