This story, originally published by WSMV, appeared Jan. 22, 2018. Copyright 2018 WSMV.
NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) – Gov. Bill Haslam unveiled a three-part plan Monday detailing how he hopes the state can prevent and treat opioid addiction and enforce the law.
The $30 million proposal is a part of the governor’s budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year, and he wants the legislature to weigh in on how taxpayer money should be spent.
Haslam said he worked with the state judicial branch, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, the state health department and others to come up with the plan called “Tennessee Together.” It details measures in prevention including a five-day limit on opioids initially prescribed, identifying pregnant women who are opioid users and providing treatment, and educating children in kindergarten to high school about the opiates.
“For K-12 it will introduce revisions to the state’s health education academic standards to increase education toward prevention,” Haslam said.
Haslam’s plan would also come up with ways professors should teach the subject to people studying the medical field.
“This is not us telling them what their curriculum will be. This is a group of professionals in that field who have come together and design what the competencies are that should be developed around evidence based pain and addiction management,” Haslam said.
Part of the proposal also includes arming every state trooper with the life-saving drug Narcan for overdoses.
Kiersten Odom is a recovering opioid addict who works for Addiction Campuses. She has been sober for two and a half years.
“I didn’t realize what I was being prescribed and how addictive it was and so the education behind that is really important to understand you know what you’re being started off with,” Odom said. “I was a medical X-ray tech at one point and my disease took me down. And I didn’t realize how it was affecting me until it was too late.”
She told News 4 addicts can get creative with getting money to fund their problem. One Knoxville legislator said police in his district are finding addicts stealing items from retailers and then returning them for gift cards that are then pawned for cash.
“They buy the cards at a discount and give the individuals money for it and then that money is being used to go out and buy OxyContin, heroin, others of these opiates,” said Sen. Richard Briggs, R-Knoxville.
Odom’s addiction landed her in jail with nowhere to turn for help.
“If you’re in jail you’re just dry and there’s no resources in jail or at least that was always my experience,” Odom said.
Haslam’s plan now aims to help addicted inmates and how they might lay hands on drugs when they can’t get a prescription, which means additional resources would go to the TBI.
“As a former TBI agent, they don’t have that many drug agents, but they see an opportunity here to develop rapid response teams to respond to local governments where they know they have real problems and they know where those problems are,” said Commissioner David Purkey of the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security.
Democratic lawmakers responded to the governor’s plan saying they believe Medicaid needs to be expanded to help families without private insurance get greater access to treatment programs.
“I stand with anyone who wants to fight the opioid crisis, but by not expanding Medicaid, we are fighting with our hands tied,” said Democratic House Minority Leader Rep. Craig Fitzhugh. “Opioid-related emergency visits increased nearly 100 percent between 2000 and 2014 according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Expanding Medicaid-eligible population coverage to help battle their addictions.”
Tennessee Democratic Party Chair Mary Mancini said, “In total Tennessee taxpayers have lost over $3.5 billion in funding that is rightfully theirs that would have aided families coping with addiction. Over 1,600 Tennessee families lost a loved one just last year because of this crisis. Whatever plan Speaker Harwell and Governor Haslam announce today, if it doesn’t start with expanding Medicaid, it isn’t a serious one.”