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VOL. 42 | NO. 27 | Friday, July 6, 2018
Opioid abuse is taking Tennessean lives
By Frank Daniels III
The 124-member newspapers of the Tennessee Press Association are working together to present a forum for the major candidates in the gubernatorial and senate races. This week, candidates are addressing how to approach the opioid crisis.
Too many deaths
Drive along Tennessee’s busy interstate highways and you can’t miss the signs warning drivers to buckle up and drive safely – reminders of how many people lost their lives on the state’s roads.
In 2016, traffic accidents claimed the lives of 1,037 people, a nearly 8 percent increase compared to the previous year.
But more people, 1,631, died from drug overdoses, primarily opioid overdoses, during that same period.
A growing tragedy
Only The opioid crisis can be measured in many different ways, the excessive number of prescriptions – Tennessee ranks No. 2 behind Alabama in the number of opioid prescriptions per person. Another grim statistic is that almost 37,000 different people were treated at a Tennessee hospital for opioid substance abuse or poisoning in 2016.
But it is the rapid increase in overdose deaths that illustrates the tragic nature of opioid abuse.
Since 2011, the number of people dying from a drug overdose, almost all from some form of opioids, has increased a staggering 154 percent. Deaths in traffic accidents increased almost 11 percent, and the number of people murdered is up 25 percent.
Call for action
In his last budget, Haslam proposed a comprehensive approach to stemming the crisis, which he labels TN Together: Ending the opioid crisis.
The governor proposed that initial opioid prescriptions be limited to a five-day supply, with daily dosage amounts also limited. He asked that sentences be reduced for inmates who complete an intensive substance use treatment program. And he proposed updated controlled substance schedules to improve tracking, monitoring and penalties for distribution of some controlled substances, particularly fentanyl.
Taking a cue from the highway safety sign program, the governor wants to increase education about substance abuse in Tennessee schools and implement a public awareness campaign about the potential dangers of opioid use.
In August, President Donald Trump declared that the opioid crisis was “a national emergency,” and hosted an “Opioid Summit” in March to formulate his administration’s response. The president’s plan is generally similar to the one proposed by Haslam.
What will new leaders do?
Opioid abuse, murder, and traffic accidents dominate the headlines of public safety and obscure the many moving parts that must be addressed to improve the health and well-being of Tennesseans, but these grim statistics are the visible part of the iceberg that give us warning.
Frank Daniels is a writer living in Clarksville. A former editor, columnist and business executive, he is a member of the N.C. Journalism Hall of Fame. You reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org