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BCBS, UT to Provide Opioid Antidote, Training to Law Enforcement

How many of the 1,263 Tennesseans who died of opioid overdoses in 2014 could have been saved with an opioid antidote?

There’s no way to know, said Don Green, executive director of the University of Tennessee Law Enforcement Innovation Center, but he hopes some training the center is providing starting this month can dramatically decrease the number of overdose deaths going forward.

Green, who was Deputy Chief of Police for Knoxville Police Department before retiring and joining the UT center in 2008, said a grant from BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee's Tennessee Health Foundation is making it possible for the center to train more than 350 members of law enforcement, statewide, on administering naloxone. The drug can reverse the effects of opioid overdose if given in time.

Green said the naloxone training will be part of a training course on domestic violence, since that issue and drug abuse are often linked. It will be offered in seven jurisdictions – including in Anderson and Blount counties, where Knox County officers can attend – to not only officers but also supervisors who might have questions about implementing naloxone programs in their departments, Green said.

BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee’s Health Foundation provided a $35,000 grant for the training, he said. An additional $250,000 grant lets Tennessee law enforcement agencies apply for money to purchase naloxone for their first responders.

“Cost is always an issue – that’s money out of your budget,” Green said. But “naloxone is life-saving.”

Green said having officers carry the drug can save not only civilian lives, but potentially those of first responders accidentally exposed to opioid drugs, either in powder form blown into the face or through an accidental needle stick. If the drug is particularly potent, it “wouldn’t take very much at all” to cause a reaction, Green said, especially in someone with no previous exposure.

On Nov. 1, the Law Enforcement Innovation Center began training officers to administer naloxone. Green said last year the center provided 67 weeks of different types of training to 2,000 people.

Dawn Abel, director of community relations and foundations for BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, said that, faced with growing evidence of a statewide opioid epidemic, the Health foundation started planning about a year ago for clinical programs and community initiatives to address it.

“Treatment for overdoses (with naloxone) came up as something we could address pretty quickly and make a big impact,” Abel said. A BCBS foundation in Pennsylvania had funded a similar program that was “very successful and saved a lot of lives,” she added.

The company’s larger effort to combat opioid abuse includes a $1.3 million grant to expand Coffee County Anti-Drug Coalition’s Count It! Lock It! Drop It! programstatewide. That initiative educates people on the dangers of having unused prescription drugs around the house, and how to dispose of them. BCBS plans to fund a “significant public awareness campaign,” using radio, television, billboards, social media and “any way we can get the word out” about how easy it is for unsecured drugs to be removed from the home and abused.

Abel said the foundation also provided a grant to East Tennessee Children’s Hospital for its neonatal abstinence syndrome unit, which serves babies exposed to drugs before birth, as well as to Susannah’s House and Helen Ross McNabb Center, which both provide services to pregnant women and new mothers with addiction issues.

“Opioid abuse is a complex issue that takes multiple efforts to address,” Abel said. “We see this partnership with the Law Enforcement Innovation Center as another effective tool to fight the problem.”

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