While conversations about the opioid epidemic have only just begun at the federal level, Tennessee has taken the lead on an issue that will define future health outcomes for the citizens of our state.
Every day in Tennessee, at least three people die from opioid-related overdoses; this is more than the daily number of traffic fatalities. During the 2018 legislative session, we passed landmark legislation, known as Tennessee Together, that begins addressing the opioid epidemic that claimed the lives of more than 1,600 citizens in 2016 alone — one of the highest death rates in the entire nation.
Tennessee Together is comprised of legislation, $30 million in funds through the budget, and other executive actions to battle opioids through the three major components of prevention, treatment, and law enforcement. Legislatively, Tennessee Together addresses opioid abuse by limiting initial addiction among Tennesseans and by updating the state’s controlled substance schedules in order to better track, monitor, and penalize the use and unlawful distribution of dangerous and addictive drugs — including fentanyl.
These measures decrease the supply and dosage of prescription opioids with reasonable exception and an emphasis on new patients, which ultimately reduces the number of opioids available in our communities. They also include sentence reduction credits for prisoners who successfully complete intensive substance use disorder treatment programs while incarcerated, reducing recidivism rates and saving taxpayer money.
According to the Tennessee Department of Health and the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, more than 7 million opioid prescriptions are filled annually in our state. Studies indicate that patients who receive opioid prescriptions exceeding five days face a higher risk of addiction.
In addition to Tennessee Together, I was proud to sponsor House Bill 1993 — another vital tool designed to curb opioid abuse. It requires all prescriptions for Schedule II controlled substances in Tennessee to be issued electronically by July of 2020. House Bill 1993 also includes exceptions for doctors in rural communities who may encounter technological barriers in the treatment of their patients.
Schedule II controlled substances have a high potential for abuse which may lead to severe psychological dependence. They include substances such as methadone, oxycodone, fentanyl, and morphine. Recent studies suggest that Tennessee pharmacists filled over 500,000 fraudulent prescriptions last year alone.
While I believe Tennessee has once again led on a paramount issue that will determine the future health and well-being of our citizens, none of these measures will complete eliminate our opioid crisis. However, they are important steps that begin the process of breaking the cycle of addiction here in Tennessee. I want you to know that I will continue to fight for you and for additional resources in order to ensure that we are able to better protect the health and well-being of our citizens.
Ron Gant serves as Assistant Majority Floor Leader. He is also a member of the House Health Committee and the House Calendar and Rules Committee, as well as the House Insurance & Banking Sub and Full Committees. Gant lives in Rossville and represents House District 94, which includes Fayette, McNairy, and part of Hardeman County. He can be reached by email at: [email protected] or by calling (615) 741-6890.