This story, originally published by WCYB, appeared Jan. 23, 2018. Copyright 2018 WCYB.
SULLIVAN COUNTY, Tenn. — Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam says a new, $30 million dollar plan will be a monumental step forward in the war on drugs. Numbers from Tennessee’s State Health Department show the opioid epidemic kills three Tennesseans a day. Some of the hardest hit areas are right here in northeast Tennessee.
In 2016, 36 people died of opioid overdoses in Sullivan County. Washington County saw 30 deaths, while Johnson County had the fewest deaths of our local counties with just one.
“When there’s 7.6 million prescriptions written for only 6.6 million Tennesseans, anyone can do the math and see there’s a problem,” Governor Bill Haslam said on Monday while unveiling his opioid attack plan.
There are three main components of the plan. The first is prevention. The plan calls for a five-day limit for initial opioid prescriptions and a daily dosage limit of the equivalent of 40 morphine milligrams.
“A five day supply is a good quantity to give someone because at that point, we kind of know how much longer they’re going to need it or if five days was fine,” Mark Flanary, a pharmacist at Anderson’s Pharmacy in Bristol, Tennessee, says.
According to data from the state, northeast Tennessee has some of the highest numbers of opioid prescriptions.
“We see a lot of chronic pain in this area and have a lot of injuries,” Flanary says. “That plays into [the number of opioid prescriptions].”
Treatment is the second component of Governor Haslam’s plan. The state is committing $25 million to create new public awareness campaigns in schools and for women who are opioid abusers and don’t know the risks to the unborn.
The third part of the plan focuses on law enforcement. One step is adding more opioid-focused police agents. It also increases the penalty for fentanyl use and distribution, and equip state troopers with naloxone, an overdose reversing drug. Sullivan County District Attorney Barry Staubus says this is a step in the right direction, but he’s not sure if it’s enough money.
“If we increase the punishment for fentanyl and we prosecute more of these cases of abusing of drugs, it’s going to take a lot more resources for law enforcement and prosecutors across the state,” Staubus says.
Mountain States Health Alliance sent us a statement about how the Governor’s plan could affect them. It says in part, pending the merger, Ballad Health is proposing to build an addiction recovery campus. It will include a range of services, including detoxification and independent living services.