The Opioid Epidemic Should Be First Priority Of State Legislature In Upcoming Year

Thursday, November 21, 2019

When considering the most pressing matter that is threatening the great state of Tennessee, I would be willing to bet that more apparent matters come to your mind such as the state of our education system, the statewide job market, or maybe even the depressing (but improving) state of the University of Tennessee’s football program. To myself, the opioid crisis, which was declared a national public health crisis by President Trump, should be at least near the top of your list.

Currently, our state has an opioid-related death rate of 26.6 (per 100,000 citizens), which is 4.9 persons higher than the national death rate of 21.7. This ranks as the 15th highest rate in the country. It is because of these fear inducing numbers as well as a lack of a long term plan statewide that I believe that alternative options for pain relief, such as acupuncture, physical therapy, or even medical cannabis should be implemented statewide. 

This issue of opioid abuse is one that transcends all socioeconomic factors, whether it be race, sex, religion, age, annual income, etc. Although it is true that some groups (such as rural, low income) may technically be prone to be exposed to these tendencies more frequently, addiction is 100% always blind to who it chooses to affect next. There are many times where trends may be noticed of which groups are at risk at that specific point in time but the point to be made is that, it does not matter where you came from or where you want to go, one slip up with painkillers as dangerous as Hydrocodone or Oxycodone can permanently disrupt your life plans. 

Before just recently, the only legislation that had been passed for the purpose of combating this issue was the “TN Together” initiative that was passed by our state legislature this past year. Do not get me wrong, this was a great step in the right direction. This plan covers nearly all the bases that are currently an issue. It handles opioid addiction prevention, treatment, and law enforcement adjustment.  

Again, I want to restate that the purpose of this article is very much not to attack where this bill is coming from, but rather to point out which part of this epidemic should really be the priority of our representatives. Handling the treatment and prevention should very much be a step towards eradicating this crippling epidemic. However, if I were in the state legislature and facing the same problem that the current representatives are, my highest priority would not be trying to simply slow down the prescription and consumption of these drugs. My goal would be to slowly, yet effectively, get them out of doctors’ offices altogether! This is exactly how the recent senate bill 0194 proposed by Senator Watson of Hamilton County. The point of this bill is to clarify language used in the Tennessee code to encourage the use of alternatives. A concern that these alternatives may not be as effective as traditional painkillers is put to rest by Jamie Starkey, a professional acupuncturist says “We not only see changes in their primary complaint, which would be improvement in pain scores, but we also see a lot of secondary improvement as well as an improvement in overall quality of life.” The only bump that must be flattened out is the financial side of this, which will largely be covered by health insurance companies, a whole other current issue. 

As I watch the American political climate become more polarized it seems by the day, I become more fearful of the world that my children and grandchildren will live in. Whether it be who and what the first amendment rights apply to, immigration, or voting laws, there appears to be two strongly conflicting opinions on everything. This is where I actually find hope in solving the opioid crisis. It does not matter what party affiliation you are or views you possess, fighting this epidemic can be just one step toward a future of unity. 

Joe Butler



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