Governor’s Plan to Confront Opioid Epidemic Needs GOP Boost
Our institutional reflexes might be slow, but it is encouraging to see the emergence of substantive plans to address America’s opioid addiction epidemic.
A USA TODAY NETWORK series outlined the scope of the problem: More than 175 drug overdose deaths per day in 2016, a year that found more than 11 million of us abusing painkillers derived from the seed pods of poppies, nearly 1 million of us using heroin, and only 1 in 10 addicts receiving treatment.
Across Tennessee, an average of three people die from opioid overdoses daily.
It is no consolation that prescriptions for opioids in Shelby County totaled less than half the rates in many other Tennessee counties during 2016.
The opioid crisis has affected families of all backgrounds. Nashville Mayor Megan Barry’s son, Max Barry, died because of an overdose of drugs, which included multiple opioids.
The response has been slow in coming, but several efforts to combat the problem are underway.
Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell plans a public awareness campaign led by the Health Department.
In December the Nashville-Davidson County Metro Council became one of the Tennessee communities to sue prescription opioid manufacturers.
The lawsuits are a reasonable and logical initiative in light of the shameful marketing tactics by the pharmaceutical industry, and in particular Purdue Pharma, whose drug OxyContin jump-started the opioid epidemic, as documented in USA TODAY NETWORK.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam proposes to devote about $30 million to the effort, one-tenth of what the legislature’s Democrats have proposed but a more politically viable plan. Haslam’s proposal includes legislation to limit prescriptions, reducing sentences for prisoners who complete treatment programs, and educational initiatives for children.
Overdose-reversing drugs would be made available to all state troopers under the plan. Ten new Tennessee Bureau of Investigation agents would be assigned to the opioid crisis. Hundreds of prison beds would be devoted to the treatment of inmates fighting addition.
Recovery specialists would be placed in emergency rooms, and naltrexone, a medication that eases cravings for the drug, would be made available to the state’s drug recovery courts and county jails.
A newly appointed commission of 19 experts in the field would make recommendations on how the state’s medical schools educate nurses, doctors and dentists on how to avoid over-prescribing opioids.
Of course, the state’s campaign against opioid addition could be more vigorous if the Republican-dominated General Assembly would agree to expand Tenn-Care, the state’s version of Medicaid.
Medicaid expansion, a Haslam proposal that would be funded primarily by the federal government, has been shot down repeatedly in the General Assembly because of its association with Obamacare.