Tennessee opioid abuse reduction group recommends more state action

WASHINGTON COUNTY, TN (WJHL) – Tennessee’s Opioid Abuse Reduction Act working group thinks Tennessee should do more to fight its painkiller epidemic and reduce the number of overdose deaths.

Lawmakers created the group last year. The state recently released a 265-page report, which includes four recommendations.

“I think we’ve made great progress, but it’s such a huge thing,” Frontier Health Senior Vice President Dr. Randall Jessee, a member of the working group, said. “It has such impact and power. There’s so many people involved in it that we still have a drop in the bucket.”

As we reported in November, 580 people in Northeast Tennessee died from 2009 to 2014 from drug overdoses; most of those people from pain pills.

Dr. Jessee says Tennessee has made strides in tackling the problem, but he says a lack of funding to properly treat patients is holding the state back.

“Limited dollars, that’s handcuffing us more than anything else,” he said. “I think we have more information, we have more ability to take knowledge and use it than ever before. What I’d like to see is funding for long-term treatment. We have the ability to treat people, but it’s short-term.”

According to Dr. Jessee, most patients who need long-term help are uninsured. He says the proper residential treatment costs anywhere from $200 to $300 a day and can last up to a year.

“I’m talking about full behavioral health addiction treatment that deals with the person,” he said. “Extended intense treatment is necessary to deal with these individuals. You need a really structured process with the person. They need to learn how to live all over again.”

Among other things, the group as a whole is recommending lawmakers extend the law behind Tennessee’s controlled substance monitoring database. The law, which requires healthcare workers to review a person’s substance abuse history before prescribing certain drugs, is set to expire in June.

Sen. Steve Dickerson, (R-Nashville), was one of the lawmakers who helped create the working group. The state senator, who is a pain management doctor, continues to push for more access to tamper proof medications; pain pills that are more expensive, but are made to prevent drug abuse. He says those medications don’t allow abusers to crush their pills and snort them or take them in other ways. Instead, they have to take them the proper way.

He says that could be a short-term solution. Long-term, he says a lot of it comes down to money.

“In Tennessee we do not have enough mental health professionals to help with this group of patients,” he said by phone Monday. “Additional funding and focus on that is one of the cornerstones.”

Dr. Jessee says the state also needs to do more to educate doctors and the public. He referenced a report by National Safety Council Medical Advisor Dr. Donald Teater, who met with the working group. According to Dr. Jessee, the answer doesn’t always have to be prescribe first.

“The information out there now is you can take two ibuprofen and deal with your pain much better than taking opioids,” he said.

Dr. Jessee says opioids are still considered effective for cancer and end-of-life situations.

CLICK HERE TO READ: Opioid Abuse Reduction Act Working Group Report (.pdf)

Copyright WJHL 2016. All rights reserved.

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