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Tennessee’s Frontline in the Fight Against Opioids is the Family Medicine Cabinet

On May 14, 2016, I joined a club I hope you’re never in. It’s one that’s getting bigger by the day. That was when I lost my daughter Katy to a drug overdose and joined thousands of others across Tennessee as part of the “grieving parents club,” made up of those who have also lost a child to the rapidly growing opioid epidemic.

Parents inherently do anything to protect their kids from harm. From the day they’re born it’s “buckle up,” “look both ways before you cross the street,” “never talk to strangers,” “stay away from that part of town,” and on and on. But when it comes to drugs, the danger is often not on the streets or in the hands of some dealer. Increasingly, it’s in affluent neighborhoods and middle-class suburbs, big cities and small towns, and most alarming, it’s as close as the family medicine cabinet.

A recent Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health survey of adults who had been prescribed an opioid in the past year found that a staggering 88 percent of those living with children ages seven to 17 stored their pills in an unlocked place, making them easily accessible to children. The 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that young people frequently get their drugs by taking them from family and friends who have opioid prescriptions. More than half the 969,000 12- to 17-year-olds who reported misusing a prescription pain reliever said they got it from a friend or relative. And just last week a study published in Pediatrics found the number of children between the ages of 1 and 17 admitted to U.S. hospitals because of opioid overdose doubled between 2004 and 2015.

I made a promise to Katy that I would share our story so that other families might avoid a tragedy like ours and so many others. The first priority is prevention, because once drugs impact a young brain it becomes incredibly difficult to reverse. By the time my husband and I realized how vulnerable our daughter was to drugs, prevention was not an option. Her body was already depending on these substances, and recovery was our only hope.

Secondly, all Tennessee families need to accept their vulnerability to this epidemic. Katy went to a private school, played on a travel soccer team, and exactly one year to the day before her death served as Jump Marshall at the Iroquois Steeplechase. No one is spared from this epidemic, regardless of age, income, race or gender.

One tactic that would help prevent thousands of Tennesseans from initiating abuse is actually a simple concept — requiring lockable containers for prescription opioids. A bill currently before the state legislature, the “Pilfering Prevention Act,” would do just that by updating the current, 50-year-old child resistant bottles required today.

Will lockable bottles end the opioid epidemic? No. But we need every tool in the toolbox if we’re going to be serious about winning the war on opioids. This measure is long overdue, won’t cost patients a penny, and will help stop addiction before it starts. For those of us who have seen the devastating impact of opioids firsthand, this legislation is a no-brainer and is just one of many steps our state lawmakers can take that will ultimately save lives.

Every day four people in Tennessee die from an overdose. If we’re going to win the war against opioids then we have to fight like our kids’ lives depend on it, because they do. Just ask any member of the grieving parents club.

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