Forum with state task force on opioid abuse in Johnson City


Members of the Tennessee House of Representatives Task Force on opioid and prescription drug abuse were in Johnson City, learning about the epidemic in our region.

We looked up the latest numbers about opioid abuse treatment across the state, and in Northeast Tennessee.

The Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse services county data book was released last July.

It shows prescription opioids were the primary substance of abuse for Northeast Tennessee during fiscal year 2015.

The data also reveals a "significant increase" in the rate of prescription opioid abuse in the area.

In fact, Hawkins, Greene, Washington, Sullivan and Carter Counties all showed at least 42% of those seeking substance abuse treatment identified opioids as the used substance.

Some people call Northeast Tennessee the epicenter of the epidemic, because of a high rate of opoid overdoses.

While the state's task force was created by House Speaker Beth Harwell earlier this year, key leaders in healthcare and education in our area were already committed to a unique approach to community based treatment and prevention of opoid addiction. "We really wanted to come to east Tennessee because we know this is kind of the epicenter of the crisis regarding opioid overdoses," Harwell said. A unique plan to help is a partnership between ETSU, Mountain States Health Alliance and Frontier Health. They plan to open a methadone clinic this summer in Gray, tentatively called Overmountain Recovery.

"I'm not aware of any university and health system that have collaborated like this anywhere to try to solve this problem," President and CEO of Mountain States Alan Levine said. Dr. Robert Pack is the Director of the Center for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment at ETSU. He said he's hoping to get financial support from the state, as a way to help fight the addiction crisis. We're told clinical talent from Mountain States, mental health counselors from Frontier Health and research and prevention experts from ETSU will all work together to have these three benefits in one place. "That's the goal of the center and really at the clinic," Pack said. House Speaker Beth Harwell said she walks away form here convinced collaboration is key to making real difference.

"I think we learned that there needs to be a collaborative effort that it's not just giving other options of drugs but also there needs to be counseling, and that came clear to me today," she said. The epidemic didn't happened overnight, and it's not expected to go away easy. "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 said. Harwell tells us it's unlikely the state can help out financially this year, but she says maybe next year. Levine says part of Mountain State's commitment, if a merger with Wellmont Health System happens, is to invest in community needs that neither system can afford on their own, and that includes a residential drug treatment facility. He said this, along with community based treatment and prevention are key in fighting and ending opoid addiction.

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