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Editorial: You Have a Voice in Opioid Epidemic

To understand what brought the scores of people to a forum at the West High School lecture hall Tuesday night, you must look at the numbers in the opioid epidemic.

  • Tennessee has the second-highest opioid prescription rate in the country, more than one prescription for every man, woman and child.

  • Opioid prescription and related deaths in Tennessee hit an all-time high of 1,451 in 2015.

  • Almost 2 million Americans abused or were dependent on opioids in 2014.

  • 91 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose, including prescriptions and heroin.

  • As many as 1 in 4 people receiving a prescription opioid long term in primary care struggles with addiction.

  • More than 1,000 people are treated daily in an emergency room for not properly using prescription opioids.

You have a voice, though, in how the numbers turn out in the future.

"Tennessee's Opioid Epidemic" panelists - Knoxville Police Chief David Rausch; Dr. Martha Buchanan, director of the Knox County Health Department; and Dr. Andrea Willis, chief medical officer for BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee - implored the forum attendees to use their voices.

  • Call your legislators. Opioid pain medications are tracked in a statewide database, but there is no national database to track addicts crossing state lines to other clinics.

  • The medical community sees addiction as a disease. Don't vilify people who self-medicate as they do for a number of other illnesses. Get them help.

  • Short-term treatment will not heal an addict and a one-treatment-fits-all doesn't work either. It may be detox, outpatient therapy or replacement drugs. Make sure the treatment provider knows the patient and their history, what may have been tried and failed, and what hasn't been tried and might work. Time and treatment heal.

  • Resources are needed. Repeat that so legislators will hear it: Resources are needed. Treating people with addiction issues is expensive. Many addicts have no insurance or are underinsured. Programs may only be covered for short treatment periods when it takes long-term treatment for the brain to recover from the addiction. Rausch said it takes 18 months for an addict's brain to fully recover, for that person to be restored to whom they once were.

  • Buchanan said local leaders should see that those resources go to good treatment centers. Not all are.

  • Finally, Rausch said 90 percent of the crime in Knoxville is related to addiction, mostly thefts to support addicts' habits. If you treat the addict, you can reduce the crime.

You have a voice.

Legislators need to hear from you. Rausch said he has called and traveled to the Legislature so many times, the lawmakers may be getting tired of hearing from and seeing him. He said he won't stop.

You have a voice. Use it. If you don't, the opioid epidemic that has a grip on Tennessee and the nation will only grow, sweeping up you or someone you know. The numbers have proven that.

Read more:

What one young adult's addiction says about Tennessee's opioid crisis

Medics on the front lines find opioid overdose antidote a mixed blessing

Religious community helps combat opioid epidemic

Chronic pain sufferers feel stigma amid opioid crackdown

Drug court 'probably the worst best thing that's happened to me'

At a cabin, new moms find peace while fighting opioid addiction

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