Tennessee Making Progress Reducing Prescription Drug Abuse

Monday, April 25, 2016 | 8:27am

NASHVILLE – In the summer of 2014, the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, with support and leadership from Governor Bill Haslam, multiple state agencies, local governments, and citizens across the Volunteer State embarked on a first of its kind prevention campaign, created and conceived with the goal to take action and address Tennessee’s prescription drug abuse epidemic.

In 2014, the plan launched statewide. Dubbed Prescription for Success, it represented a strategy-filled road map and partnership with a consortium of state departments, community coalitions, action from legislators, law enforcement, and dedicated advocates in the field of substance abuse treatment and recovery. The goal: to collectively get a handle on the availability and misuse of prescription pain medications.

“It was a terrible time,” recalls E. Douglas Varney, Commissioner for the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. “Looking back, it’s pretty remarkable what we have accomplished in the span of just a couple years. We put a framework of goals together, rallied support from lawmakers, stayed focused, and the results so far  indicate we’ve come a very long way.”

The department has recently measured the results of its statewide efforts. Based on the goals that were set, here is just a brief list of the accomplishments, with results that are reducing the number of Tennesseans who abuse controlled substances.

Some of the noteworthy Prescription for Success achievements include:

  • Reduced patient doctor shopping for pain meds by 50%
  • Increased funding to counties with high overdose deaths and NAS births
  • Increased funding to community anti-drug coalitions
  • Decline in prescription drug poisonings and overdose deaths
  • Reaching more than 6 million with the “Take Only as Directed” commercial

“In partnership with a broad range of Departments: Health, Children’s Services, TennCare, TBI, Safety & Homeland Security, and Correction, we have realized a dramatic shift in attitudes and practices by our colleagues in healthcare, law enforcement, and providers of addiction treatment services,” said Commissioner Varney. “The bottom line is that fewer opioid prescriptions are being written and fewer Tennesseans are experiencing the downside and disastrous consequences of a painkiller addition.”

Over the course of several months in the summer of 2014, Commissioner Varney, accompanied by department staff and experts in the field of substance abuse, traveled across Tennessee to share the action plan. From Nashville to Memphis, to the Cumberland Plateau and throughout East Tennessee, legislators, law enforcement, community coalitions, substance abuse services providers and many Tennesseans were engaged and encouraged to help combat and reduce prescription drug abuse.

“We are succeeding in reducing the number of prescriptions being written. We have helped more people into treatment and recovery and rallied a new generation of Tennesseans to live a life free of addition,” said Commissioner Varney.

Intervention, Treatment, and Recovery programs have expanded

  • Increased permanent prescription drug collection boxes from 36 to 155
  • Click Here to locate the nearest Drug Take-Back Box location
  • 460,000 fewer opioid prescriptions have been reported to the Controlled Substance Monitoring Database
  • 563,000 fewer opioid morphine milligram equivalents have been dispensed
  • Certified nearly 100 faith communities as Recovery Congregations/Organizations
  • Increased the number of Recovery Courts by 54% since 2013

“We will continue to collaborate and coordinate our efforts with other states,” said Commissioner Varney. “Kentucky, Virginia, South Carolina, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Michigan have agreed to join us in this fight. There is strength in numbers,” said Commissioner Varney.

What’s next?

“While we see reduced opioid use in Tennessee, there is still work to do.  We will remain focused on the plan to decrease the use and misuse of controlled substances, reduce overdoses, increase the number of drug disposal boxes in the state so every county has access to dispose of their medications properly, and increase access to early intervention, treatment, and recovery services,” said Commissioner Varney.

“As long as Tennesseans are under the grip of substance abuse, we will continue to work together to help ensure all Tennesseans are healthy and safe.”

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