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Why I Challenge Gov. Haslam’s Opioid Plan

Last October, President Trump declared a national health emergency regarding opioids.

In Tennessee, Governor Haslam recently unveiled his $30 million plan to combat the opioid crisis. While strong steps in the right direction, both overlook a key demographic in this issue.

In spite of the recent signing of the Recognize, Assist, Include, Support and Engage (RAISE) Family Caregivers Act into law, it appears that many officials have not connected caregivers to this critical issue.

No plan to combat this epidemic is complete without caregivers — the people who truly understand the life of a patient during and after opioids.

As a 30-year caregiver for my wife Gracie, one of my many responsibilities is assisting with medication, including many opioid prescriptions over the years. A car accident in college left Gracie severely disabled with massive orthopedic trauma, eventually costing her both legs and requiring 80 surgeries to date.

I’ve handled enough opioids with street values easily running into the millions. I’ve come to understand that virtually every long-term caregiver will see their loved one suffer from chronic pain at some point, and the legitimate treatment for that chronic pain will often be opioids.

Many consider opioid addiction a “wrong side of the tracks” issue. In fact, much of Governor Haslam’s plan includes treatment for offenders, but it includes very little for chronic pain sufferers who take these medications as prescribed.

Even the correct dose still alters a person’s mood and behavior, often leading to breakdowns in relationships, finances and job performance. This is another reason caregivers are so important, since they can alert physicians and provide encouragement to attempt alternate methods of pain management.

Yet in that search for alternative relief, one cannot simply “turn off the spigot” and leave them to suffer intractable pain.

In the national opioid crisis, many parties with multiple viewpoints weigh in with their opinions.

Countering Governor Haslam’s plan, Tennessee Democratic Party Chair Mary Mancini stated, “Any effort to address the opioid crisis needs to begin with expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.”

It’s unclear why Mancini feels that expanding a national government entitlement is the first step to combat opioids.

Physician organizations, religious institutions and government officials should work together to educate patients and caregivers about counseling, support groups and other helpful resources that are often free but unknown to families living with an opioid issue.

Peter Rosenberger is president and co-founder of Standing With Hope.

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