This story, originally published by WJHL, appeared Jan. 26, 2018. Copyright 2018 WJHL.
SULLIVAN COUNTY, TN (WJHL) – An idea sparked by a Sullivan County teacher has prompted a local lawmaker to take big strides to help some of the most innocent victims of the opioid epidemic.
Tennessee State Representative Timothy Hill spoke to News Channel 11 about an idea to open a special school specifically for children born addicted to drugs.
According to the Tennessee Department of Health, 935 cases of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome – or NAS – have been reported since January 1, 2017.
Elizabeth Kuebel sat down with Representative Timothy Hill for his first interview about the potential project.
The idea was proposed to Hill about a month and a half ago by one of his constituents – a Sullivan County teacher – who he says has seen the effects of NAS directly and personally.
NAS is the result of a baby exposed to drugs in the womb, often born in withdrawal. It’s a big concern for the region, the state and local teachers – one of whom reached out to a lawmaker with an idea for change.
“But she was approaching it from a different perspective,” Timothy Hill said.
She set up a meeting about a month and a half ago, with Hill.
“I had no idea when we sat down that this was what she was going to hit me with,” said Hill.
The idea – to build a school and therapy facility for children born as babies addicted to drugs.
The teacher’s proposal was to use one of the soon-to-be closed Sullivan County schools.
“The children would go to school as if it were a regular school day in the facility, but the curriculum would be geared more toward their specific needs,” Hill said. “She has hit on something that I think could make a difference for these children.”
Recently, Hill held a conference call with leaders at the state and local level to guage their interest in the idea.
District Attorney General Barry Staubus was on the line.
“I think it’s a good idea, I think one you have to find a facility, you have to find funding, you have to find the resources,” Staubus said.
All things Timothy Hill says they’ll work to figure out as conversations continue. But the goal right now is keeping those conversations going.
“Part of this whole discussion is recognizing and bringing forth recognition that we have an issue that we must deal with and really we have to deal with it on their behalf,” Hill said. “The innocence in this situation are these children, and how can we put them in the best position not just to be successful but to be productive and that is why we’re even undertaking this conversation.”
Still many questions remain unanswered: What would the curriculum be? How much would this cost? And where would the money to build such a school come from?
All things that Rep. Hill says need to be worked out as discussions move forward.