Local reaction to Haslam's prescription drug abuse plan positive

Nick Shepherd • Jun 5, 2014 at 7:08 AM

A new plan to battle prescription drug abuse across the state of Tennessee was unveiled Tuesday by Gov. Bill Haslam.

Reaction to the plan, which lists seven specific goals the state would like to see happen over the next four years, has been positive.

"I'm glad the governor is making this a priority," said Sullivan County District Attorney General Barry Staubus. "Tennessee has a pill problem and here in East Tennessee, it's a real problem."

Prescription drug abuse in Tennessee has skyrocketed since 1998. A combination of new, powerful pain pills mixed with a push by physicians to treat pain have led to the problem.

Haslam laid out seven goals to help reduce prescription drug abuse and gave recommendations on how to complete those goals.

Goal number one of the plan is to have a 20 percent decrease in the number of people using prescription opioids. The plan offers recommendations to achieve this goal, including expand community coalitions and increase their funding; continue and expand the "take only as directed" media campaign; and support a policy that restricts direct-to-consumer marketing of prescription drugs.

To reach goal number two, reducing the number of Tennesseans who overdose each year by 20 percent, it is recommended to improve drug overdose reporting, implement a new case management system and enact a Good Samaritan law.

Overdoses have become a real problem for Tennessee.

"From 1999 to 2010, the overdose death rate rocketed from 6.1 per 100,000 to 16.9 per 100,000 as one of the top 10 states with highest overdose death rates," said Frontier Health Senior Vice President of Specialty Services Randy Jessee, Ph.D.

Goal three is to try to decrease the number of opioid prescriptions by completing standard guidelines for prescribing opioids, improve the utility of the Controlled Substance Monitoring Database and revise pain clinic rules, among others.

Increasing access to drug disposal outlets, ensuring every county in the state has accessible options for drug disposal, is goal four. Currently, 45 of the 95 counties do not have a permanent drug collection box. Some of the recommendations include guidelines for disposal and establishing local incineration sites.

The fifth goal may be the most important in Haslam's entire plan. It calls for increased access to and quality of early intervention, treatment and recovery services. Success for this goal will be measured by seeing a 20 percent increase in the number of people receiving early intervention, treatment or recovery services in the state; a 20 percent increase in the number of people who successfully complete treatment; increase by 30 percent the number of people who are employed after treatment; and see a 20 percent increase in the number of people who have stable housing after treatment.

"It is important to expand treatment services," said Robert Pack, professor and associate dean for Academic Affairs for the East Tennessee State University College of Public Health. "We need places for people to go."

Some of the recommendations to achieve those goals are for the state to provide additional funding for evidence-based treatment services; study the efficacy and feasibility of recovery schools and collegiate recovery communities; develop additional recovery courts throughout the state; and develop the best practices for detoxifying pregnant women.

Goal six is to expand collaborations and coordination among state agencies, which would include continuing the substance abuse task force and developing strategies and resources to assist Department of Children's Services caseworkers in making referrals for treatment for parents at risk of substance abuse in non-custodial and custodial cases and train those workers on effective practices to support recovery.

The final goal would be to expand collaboration and coordination with other states, which would include developing an agreement for sharing information gained through prescription drug monitoring programs.

"This plan is a comprehensive look at the problem and shows the importance of this problem," Pack said. "There are things we will continue to look at. As far as a comprehensive plan, I applaud it."

Some of these recommendations would need funding, while others would need to have legislation or regulations passed to work. There is no guarantee any of the recommendations would be put in to place by the legislature.

Experts on this issue, however, are pleased with the governor's plan.

"It has been evidenced in our service delivery programs that prescription drug abuse is a pervasive, multi-dimensional issue impacting our region and the entire state of Tennessee," said Frontier Health President and CEO Charles E. Good. "The seven goals of Prescription for Success are on target and will be a strong effort to address the prescription drug abuse problem."

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