Grant Aims to Reduce Drug Overdose Deaths in Sumner

As the number of annual drug overdose deaths across Tennessee continue to rise to record levels, officials with the Sumner County Anti-Drug Coalition say a recently awarded grant could help save local lives.

The Gallatin-based nonprofit, which aims to eliminate substance abuse across the county, was one of seven organizations in the state to receive a Strategic Prevention Framework for Prescription Drugs (SPF RX) grant from the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse, according to Liz Johnson, executive director of the Sumner County Anti-Drug Coalition.

The five-year, approximately $200,000 grant, aims to help reduce the number of local overdose deaths, as well as cut down on teen and young adult opioid use and prescription drug related crimes.

Coalition officials have been in early discussions with local law enforcement agencies about possibly using some of the funding to provide officers with the drug overdose antidote naloxone. If administered quickly, naloxone can temporarily reverse the life-threatening effects of opioids until further medical treatment can be administered.

"We can use some of our grant money to provide training to law enforcement so... they know how to use it since they are often the first to an overdose call," Johnson said. "This would reduce our overdose rates."

In 2015, there were 1,451 deaths as a result of drug overdoses in Tennessee, which represents the largest annual number in the state's history, according to the Tennessee Department of Health. Of those, 24 were in Sumner County.

Abuse and misuse of opioids, which include painkillers and heroin, were involved in nearly 72 percent of those overdose deaths statewide, according to the department.

Johnson, who taught elementary school for more than three years in Hendersonville prior to becoming executive director of the coalition in January, said she also hopes to also use the grant to help increase awareness among students and parents about the dangers of opioid use.

"We're trying to get the education first to middle and high school kids because that is where this is really starting, which is scary," she said. "Unfortunately, I think it's going to take some serious increasing numbers before people really come to the understanding of what (the problem) really is."

In addition to the grant, Johnson added the nonprofit needs to perform a new community assessment to determine how the organization can best help each community in Sumner County.

"We are so diverse, so finding out who needs what and how we can help is the most important thing," she said. "If we don't know what the problem is then we can't help."

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