What do prosecutors think of 'TN Together?'

Hank Hayes • Feb 18, 2018 at 12:00 PM

KINGSPORT — Northeast Tennessee district attorneys general say they support Gov. Bill Haslam’s legislative package to fight the opioid crisis, but they also insist more needs to be done.

They expressed their opinions about the package in a meeting with the Times News Editorial Board.

“I think it is a step in the right direction,” Sullivan County District Attorney General Barry Staubus said. “(But) I don’t think they funded it enough. I don’t think there’s enough money to do the things they want to do. … There’s no funding allocated for prosecutors. … Our crime rates are up. … There’s more and more crime produced by this. I think we need more positions and more resources.”

The legislative package, called “TN Together,” calls for bills to limit the supply and the dosage of opioid prescriptions; limit coverage for TennCare enrollees to an initial five-day supply with daily dosage limits; identify women of childbearing age who are chronic opioid users and provide targeted outreach about risks and treatment in order to aid in the prevention of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome births; invest more than $25 million for treatment and recovery services for individuals with opioid use disorder; expand residential treatment and services for opioid dependence within the criminal justice system and create incentives for offenders who complete intensive treatment programs while incarcerated; provide additional resources to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation for rapid response teams; and provide every Tennessee state trooper with naloxone for the emergency treatment of opioid overdose.

In total, Haslam’s budget proposal includes a $30 million investment — with both state and federal funds — to support TN Together.

District Attorney General Dan Armstrong, who represents Greene, Hamblen, Hancock and Hawkins counties, agreed there’s not enough funding to respond to the opioid crisis.

“I’m also worried about the accountability part of it,” Armstrong noted. “I don’t want the Department of Correction to be deciding who goes to treatment. It ought to be done by the judges and the prosecutors and the people in the county who know these people … and find the people who really want treatment or want a free ride in jail and maybe can get out early. It has to be long-term treatment. … It takes a year at least to retrain the brain.”

District Attorney General Tony Clark, who represents Carter, Johnson, Unicoi and Washington counties, said the people engulfed in the opioid crisis have been in the criminal justice system five to 10 years.

“This is not going to be fixed in two or three weeks,” Clark observed. “It’s going to take long-term inpatient treatment that’s going to cost a lot of money.”

Staubus was critical about one bill to give jail credits to those willing to enter treatment.

“I guarantee there will be people wanting to get a 90-day, 60-day reduction in their sentence,” Staubus observed. “If all they have to do is go through a program, I think that’s the wrong way to go about it. … We need to evaluate those people on a person-to-person basis, look at their family history, see what drugs they are taking and what were the circumstances they took the drug.”

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