Speaker Harwell Announces Task Force on Opioid Abuse
NASHVILLE – Speaker Beth Harwell (R-Nashville) this week created a task force on opioid and prescription drug abuse. The task force’s immediate goal will be to work on legislation, but its efforts will be ongoing to determine the best strategies for tackling the opioid epidemic. Tennessee is consistently ranked at the top of the charts nationally with regards to prescription drug abuse.
“This task force presents an opportunity to have a very serious conversation about opioid and prescription drug abuse in our state,” said Speaker Harwell. “The statistics are devastating: there are more opioid prescriptions than there are people in Tennessee. In 2015, 1,451 Tennesseans died from drug overdoses, the highest annual number in our state’s history. And the number of babies born who have been chronically exposed to opioids is high, particularly in East Tennessee. The Tennessee Department of Health reports that from 2000 to 2012, the rate of babies born with exposure increased 15 fold. We can, and should, do more to ensure this is not happening.”
She continued, “The Tennessee General Assembly has passed some legislation in the past targeting the problem, but I believe we also need to look toward solutions that include treatment and prevention measures. I believe this task force can be an asset as we work to address this issue in this session and in the future.”
The Centers for Disease Control estimates that prescription opioid abuse has a total economic burden of $78.5 billion per year in the United States. There is an estimated $7.7 billion criminal justice cost across the country.
Speaker Harwell appointed the following members to the task force:
Speaker Pro Tempore Curtis Johnson, R-Clarksville – Chair
Representative JoAnne Favors, D-Chattanooga
Representative Curtis Halford, R-Dyer
Representative Darren Jernigan, D-Old Hickory
Representative William Lamberth, R-Portland
Representative Dennis Powers, R-Jacksboro
Representative Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville
“I have asked the members of the task force to work toward legislation that can be filed this year, as well as working collaboratively with other members who have legislation on the topic. Working together, I am hoping we can create some comprehensive solutions to this epidemic,” concluded Speaker Harwell.
Future meeting times for the task force will be announced as they are scheduled.