July 31, 2017
BLOUNTVILLE, Tenn. — More than $100,000 in federal funding will be used in Northeast Tennessee to fight what has been labeled a nationwide opioid epidemic.
The 21st Century Cures Act, signed into law in December 2016, provides $1 billion in funding to prevent the abuse of opioids, heroin and other addictive drugs across the country and to provide drug recovery treatment with the ultimate goal of reducing the number of overdose deaths.
The money was allocated by region in Tennessee so the Sullivan County Anti-Drug Coalition received $133,000 for Northeast Tennessee, which includes Sullivan, Carter, Greene, Hancock, Hawkins, Johnson, Unicoi and Washington counties.
The grants are paying for doses of the lifesaving opioid overdose antidote Narcan, also known as Naloxone, across the state. The funds will also be used to hire peer recovery specialists.
The Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services was given $13.8 million through the act. Twenty percent of the money is being used for drug abuse prevention and the rest is being used for drug treatment and recovery services, according to Sarah Cooper, the department’s director of prevention and early intervention services.
“The federal government really wanted us to focus on and increase education and awareness to prescribing practices,” said Cooper. “Overdoses [are] extending from very rural and very urban areas out into more suburban areas and surrounding areas. What we decided to do was fund 10 community-based coalitions throughout the state that we are already currently funding … to hire peer recovery nurses, or peer recovery specialists.”
In 2016, at least 106 deaths in Sullivan County involved opioids, according to the county’s District Attorney General Barry Staubus. Northeast Tennessee has been dubbed the epicenter of the rise in prescription drug overdose deaths.
An estimated 69,100 Tennesseans are addicted to prescription opioids and require treatment for prescription opioid abuse, according to the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. An additional 151,900 in the state are using prescription opioids in ways that could be harmful, and may benefit from early intervention strategies.
“What we’re trying to do is make sure that people don’t die so they can get help and treatment,” said Alice McCaffrey, director of the Sullivan County Anti-Drug Coalition. “Of course, there isn’t enough help and treatment around so it is a delicate balancing act, but it is a proven strategy for helping to reduce overdose deaths.”
The grant seeks to first get Narcan in the hands of law enforcement and first responders, but families, friends and community organizations can also get the medicine. Anyone who knows or may come into contact with a drug user who is at risk of an opioid overdose can ask for a kit.
McCaffrey said she believes it’s important for anyone who may arrive first to help an overdose victim to have the antidote because by the time emergency medical services arrives it could be too late.
Earlier this month the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office distributed 216 doses of Narcan that were paid for through a BlueCross BlueShield grant to patrol, school resource, transport, court process, corrections and court security officers and to its K-9 teams and criminal investigations division.
“We’re really trying to get the Naloxone into the hands of either active [drug] users, or family members of active users or friends of active users,” said Cooper. “We’re actually getting these kits into people’s homes because we know the large majority of overdoses happen at home and in cars.”
To request Narcan from the SCAD Coalition fill out a form online at bit.ly/2vcQhxo. McCaffrey plans to place the first order for kits in August.
“I say this with all my heart: you can recover and sometimes you have to go through a series of overdoses and sometimes it just takes one, but we can’t recover if we’re dead,” said Cooper. “My goal and our goal at the office of prevention is to get as many as of these kits out there into the general public so that these people do have an opportunity to recover.”
The hiring process for peer recovery specialists across the state is underway.
Read more on the Bristol Herald Courier.
Lurah Spell is the Sullivan County reporter for the Bristol Herald Courier.