By Marlana Ward
Local citizens, law enforcement, medical professionals, and community organization representatives came together Friday, September 7, for a town hall concerning prescription drug abuse and the resulting opioids epidemic plaguing our region. The ACTION Coalition hosted the event in hopes of bringing people together to increase awareness of the problem and discuss ideas to combat the epidemic.
The speakers for the event included Angela Hagaman, Operations Director for The Center for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment; family physician, Dr. Jim Shine with Mountain States Medical Group; and Officer Chris Lipford, Investigator for the Johnson County Sheriff’s Department. Hagaman presented the group with statistics and graphs to demonstrate how the use of opioids has increased in the Appalachian Mountains over the past few years and also how it has affected births in the area.
“In 2017, there were 987 cases of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome documented,” she said. “That was 21percent of births in East Tennessee.”
Hagaman went on to describe the efforts being made by ETSU to bring treatment options to more people and combat the stigmas that accompany opioids treatment facilities. She also mentioned how medication-assisted treatments are proving successful.
“Evidence across the board shows medication assistance treatment decreases mortality by 50 percent,” she said.
Providing the perspective of the medical community, Dr. Shine expressed to those in attendance how pharmaceutical companies contributed to the current opioids epidemic.
“In the 1990s, there was a big emphasis on how pain is the fifth vital sign,” he explained. “There was a big push towards better pain treatment. At the same time, pharmaceutical companies were creating oxycodone, and we were being told it was safe to prescribe. That planted a lot of seeds and helped lead us to where we are now. I think we were duped as a healthcare community.”
Shine informed the group of various websites and databases that healthcare facilities can access to ensure that prescriptions are being used as intended and to stop the once common practice of “doctor shopping.”
“I am optimistic,” he closed by saying. “People understand that there is enough information out there and now I can say ‘This medication is not as safe as was first thought.’”
Representing the law enforcement view on the situation, Officer Chris Lipford explained what he commonly sees with local, school-aged offenders. “The school kids’ main problem is marijuana and prescription drugs,” he said.
Lipford also shared how the drive to continually seek the same feeling as the first time a drug is taken, can ruin lives. “Ninety-five percent of people say that they get high that first time due to peer pressure,” he stated. “They spend the rest of their life trying to catch that high again and they never will.”
The ACTION Coalition wrapped up the town hall by expressing the group’s desire to work alongside the medical community, law enforcement, and any community groups to help combat the opioids epidemic in our area.