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.
Last week, we implemented three new solutions in an effort to begin addressing a public health crisis that claimed the lives of more than 1,600 Tennesseans in 2016 alone, one of the highest death rates in the entire nation.
Every day in Tennessee, at least three people die from opioid-related overdoses — more than the daily number of traffic fatalities. Thankfully, we are making progress curbing instances of opioid and drug abuse in cities and towns across Tennessee.
House Bill 1831 begins to address opioid abuse by limiting initial addiction among Tennesseans. It decreases the supply and dosage of prescription opioids with an emphasis on new patients and prescriptions. Ultimately, it reduces the number of opioids available in our communities.
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.
House Bill 1832 supports the goal of House Bill 1831 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. The bill also includes sentence reduction credits for prisoners who successfully complete intensive substance use disorder treatment programs while incarcerated, reducing recidivism rates and saving taxpayer money.
Finally, House Bill 1993 — which I sponsored — requires all prescriptions for Schedule II controlled substances in Tennessee to be issued electronically by July of 2020. The measure 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 none of these measures will completely eliminate our opioid crisis, 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 additional resources in the coming days in order to ensure the future health of our state.
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@example.com or by calling (615) 741-6890.