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Tennessee government creates initiative to fight opioid crisis

The opioid epidemic has taken its toll on the United States in recent years, with Tennessee recently taking a rather large hit.

More than 7.8 million opioid prescriptions were written in Tennessee in 2015, outnumbering the 6.34 million state residents, according to IMS Health, a healthcare data source.

In addition, at least three people die from an opioid-related overdose in Tennessee every day, with 1,186 Tennesseans dying in 2016 alone, according to TN Together, a three-part plan developed to overcome the opioid crisis in Tennessee.

Rachel Barenie, symposium editor at the University of Memphis Law Review, said the plan is meant to address the epidemic in all fields that are dealing with issues from the epidemic, whether it’s law enforcement, how the drugs are prescribed or the public health response to them.

“We definitely need to have an interdisciplinary approach to the crisis,” Barenie said. “This is a public health crisis that is facing our country, it’s an important issue, and it’s timely and relevant.”

In addition, from 2007 to 2016, 827 people in Shelby County died from an opioid overdose, 573 died from prescription opioid overdose and 314 died of a heroin overdose, according to a news release from the Shelby County Mayor’s office Jan. 10. 

Gov. Bill Haslam developed TN Together, a three-pronged approach that focuses on the prevention, treatment and law enforcement aspects of the opioid epidemic.

The prevention approach of TN Together focuses on placing reasonable limits on supply and dosage of prescription opioids, limiting initial prescriptions to a five-day supply with daily dosage limits.

“Higher dosages of opioids have been associated with higher risk of overdose and death while proving ineffective at reducing pain over the long term,” according to the plan.

For the treatment approach, more than $25 million will be spent in state and federal funds for treatment and recovery services for individuals with opioid disorders.

The law enforcement approach will focus on updating the schedule of controlled substances to better track, monitor and penalize the use and unlawful distribution of dangerous and addictive drugs.

Barenie said the Memphis Law Review will host a symposium on the topic of opioid addiction March 16.

“Every year our law review hosts a symposium about a topic that is timely and relevant,” Barenie said. “This year our topic will be on the opioid crisis, to address it and make sure we bring everybody to the table who is having to work with individuals that are either addicted or get to recovery.”

Stefan Padfield, professor of law at the University of Akron, will be one of the speakers at the Memphis Law Review Symposium on March 16 regarding the opioid crisis.

“The presentation will propose that courts and treatment providers expand the use of service as a low cost means of addressing the opioid crisis,” Padfield said. “For example, while it is common to sentence addicts to attend meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous in addition to community service, we are not aware of any courts sentencing addicts to perform service work at A.A. meetings, even though there are likely plentiful opportunities to do so.”

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