In 2015, more Tennesseans died due to opioid-related causes than in car crashes.
Opioid use is on the rise in the Volunteer State, and there’s no real sign of it subsiding.
According to the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse, almost five percent of the state’s residents are addicted to an opioid, with the highest concentration happening in urban counties including Davidson (Nashville), Shelby (Memphis), and Knox (Knoxville).
Deaths related to opioid use, including overdoses, reached 1,451 people in 2015, an all-time high for the state. Statistics for 2016 are not yet available.
“I think we all realize what a big problem this is,” State Rep. Curtis Johnson of Clarksville told The Tennessean.
Johnson is the chairperson of a new task force established by the Tennessee House of Representatives to work on reducing the number of opioid- and prescription-related deaths in the state.
The task force recently held a forum in Johnson City, as there have been a high number of opioid overdoses in that particular region.
“We really wanted to come to east Tennessee because we know this is kind of the epicenter of the crisis regarding opioid overdoses,” House Speaker Beth Harwell told WCYB.
But some question whether the state is doing enough.
David Plazas, the Opinion and Engagement Editor of The Tennessean, wrote in an op-ed on April 1 that more urgency overall is needed.
“The demand for solutions and accountability is growing louder,” he wrote. “While there are local, state and national efforts to stem the tide, they still are not enough to tame what is Tennessee’s No. 1 public health crisis — taking a grave economic, societal and emotional toll on families.”
Plazas cited two additional forums — one in Knoxville in March and one in Nashville last summer — that each resulted in the same message from the panelists involved: that “there should be no one-size-fits-all approach and that addiction must be treated medically not criminally.”
“That is a message that federal and state political leaders must hear, heed and act upon,” he wrote.
In Johnson City, Harwell said that collaboration between the government and health care facilities is key to stemming the epidemic but, according to WCYB, added that it was “unlikely that the state can help out financially this year.”
“I think we are headed in the right direction and if nothing else I think the people of upper East Tennessee should know that the state legislature cares about this issue and cares about this region and wants to be helpful,” she told the station.
But is a task force enough? Plazas wrote that he is optimistic that it will provide valuable insights and possible solutions — but it can’t stop there.
“This will not be an easy problem to solve, but we must have the resolve to continue to fight and serve the needs of those who most need help,” he wrote.