New Laws Enacted To Help Opioid Epidemic In Tennessee
August 6, 2018
Tennessee, like many other states in the country, is suffering the effects of the nationwide opioid epidemic. The Tennessee Department of Health reports that in 2016 alone, 1,631 people died from overdose throughout the state. In addition, there were approximately 13,000 nonfatal overdose outpatient visits, 7,000 nonfatal overdose inpatients stay, and a whopping 6.8 million prescription painkillers written by physicians.
With numbers like these continuing to rise, Tennessee has taken nearly half of its state budget to curb instances of prescription drug abuse, addiction, and overdoses. As a result, some of the 150 new laws that were enacted throughout the state on July 1 included laws related to the opioid epidemic.
Of these new laws, the most impactful are expected to be those that limit the number of opioid prescriptions and provide incentives for people already struggling with substance use disorder to accept addiction treatment.
Limiting Opioid Prescriptions
Throughout the entire country, the over-prescription of addictive medications like painkillers has become a major problem. Many states are taking action to ensure that the physicians within their state are appropriately prescribing high-risk medications, and now Tennessee is following.
Under the new law, physicians will only be allowed to prescribe a three-day supply of opioid medications when prescribing a patient for the first time. However, exceptions will be made to accommodate those who have undergone significant surgeries and cancer, as well as those in hospice. There remains a concern amongst some professionals that this new law will make it more complex for those in need to receive the appropriate care, however, the benefits in regards to decreasing the opioid epidemic are slated to be more effective.
The new opioid-based laws will provide incentives to imprisoned offenders that will encourage them to receive addiction treatment while in jail. The hope is that working to rehabilitate offenders as they serve time will set them up for success when they are released, as opposed to putting them back into society without the appropriate skills to affect positive change in their lives.
Also, those drug dealers who provide drugs to individuals who die as a result will be charged with second-degree murder. Hopefully serving as a deterrent for drug dealers, this part of the law is the most aggressive and controversial in terms of cracking down on the opioid epidemic in the state of Tennessee.
How Did the Opioid Epidemic Develop?
Tennessee is merely just one of the many states putting forth efforts to control the growing number of opioid addictions in their towns and cities. Since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) declared an opioid epidemic in 2011, more and more people have developed substance use disorders that are related to the over-prescription of painkillers.
So, how did the entire country get to this point? Towards the end of the 90’s, pharmaceutical companies made it a point to provide physicians with the reassurance that prescription painkillers were not going to cause their patients to develop addictions or dependencies to them. Following this assurance, physicians loosely prescribed common painkillers such as OxyContin, Vicodin, Percocet, and Demerol without fear of harm towards their patients. However, as it became clear that these medications were in fact extremely addictive, it was already too late.
Already comfortable and in a routine with how they would prescribe opioid-based painkillers, many physicians continued to prescribe these medications at an inappropriate rate, even if they did make efforts here and there to curb their practices. Today, several physicians in numerous states are still over-prescribing painkillers, meaning that they are writing them out for people who do not necessarily need them, writing them out for more days/weeks than truly needed, or writing them out excessively as a means of treating pain.
Unfortunately, the accessibility of prescription painkillers led to something that many people did not see coming, which is the increased rise in heroin abuse.
Prescription painkillers are not cheap, and even though there are several ways for individuals to maneuver around rules and regulations regarding how he or she can obtain these medications, they are becoming increasingly harder to obtain. As a result of both of these cons, those who are addicted to prescription painkillers have transitioned to abusing heroin, as it is much more affordable, easier to obtain, and produces the same effects as painkillers do.
According to Governor Bill Haslam, Tennessee is going to have “one of the most strict and aggressive opioid policies in the nation” so that potential increases in opioid addiction can be prevented.
Known as TN Together, the Governor has put in place an action plan designed to put a stop to the opioid crisis within Tennessee. This plan is divvied out into three different areas of focus: prevention, treatment, and law enforcement.
In an effort to prevent further opioid addictions from developing, TN Together is focused on providing several different tactics, including, but not limited to, the following:
- Increasing substance abuse education for school-aged children and teens
- Enacting a public awareness campaign to raise awareness for the people of Tennessee
- Decreasing how many prescription drugs physicians can prescribe
For those who are already addicted to opioids, there are several different initiatives that are being put in place. Some examples of these initiatives include the following:
- Providing more funding for treatment and recovery services
- Ensuring that all TennCare members who are diagnosed with opioid use disorder can receive top-level treatment options
- Creating a statewide treatment collaborative for those citizens grappling with opioid addiction
Utilizing law enforcement, the state will work to help those in need as a result of opioid addiction, as well as provide consequences to those who violate laws that are supposed to help prevent opioid addiction. Some actions law enforcement will take include the following:
- Carrying Narcan at all times in case of an opioid overdose
- Increasing state funding to prevent the selling and trafficking of opioids
- Updating controlled substance schedules so that law enforcement can track and penalize those who are dealing with dangerous drugs
While there are several measures being put into motion regarding the opioid epidemic and how to stop it, there are still countless people who are currently addicted to one or more opioids.
If you or someone you love is struggling with opioid use disorder, do not let one more day go by without reaching out for help. Call us right now. We can help.