published Friday, July 11th, 2014

Cooperation called key to beating prescription abuse

Jennifer Summers, left, and Lori Cunningham listen to friend Dave Hodges speak at a news conference held Thursday, July 10, 2014, at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga to discuss the state's plans for tackling widespread prescription drug abuse in Tennessee. Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services Commissioner E. Douglas Varney was present to speak.
Jennifer Summers, left, and Lori Cunningham listen to friend Dave Hodges speak at a news conference held Thursday, July 10, 2014, at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga to discuss the state's plans for tackling widespread prescription drug abuse in Tennessee. Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services Commissioner E. Douglas Varney was present to speak.
Photo by Doug Strickland.

BY THE NUMBERS

• 3,000: Number of 12- to 17-year-olds in Hamilton County who abused or depended on illicit drugs or alcohol in the past year

• 21,600: Hamilton County residents over 18 who abused or depended on illicit drugs or alcohol in the past year

• 1,600: Drug-related adult arrests in 2012 in Hamilton County

Source: Chattanooga’s Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse Services

Break down the statistics for the number of drug-addicted teens in Hamilton County, and you’ll find there is an average of roughly two in every classroom.

It’s just one more grim statistic that the Southeast Tennessee area has seen in a growing amount of data illustrating the state’s addiction to painkillers and other controlled substances.

That’s why E. Douglas Varney, commissioner of Tennessee’s Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, came to Chattanooga on Thursday to speak about the state’s newest push to battle the epidemic.

The plan, dubbed “Prescription for Success,” aims to reduce both the number of Tennesseans who abuse controlled substances and the amount of painkillers prescribed in the state.

Many facets of the plan are familiar: Drug courts, referrals to treatment, drug disposal outlets and a prescription database that doctors are required to use. And there has been no large infusion of state funding to battle the problem.

But Varney said that while he hopes for more funding, the heart of the plan is to create an infrastructure linking more existing organizations together and more Tennesseans to a variety of treatment options.

“What’s new about this is the collaboration between agencies, where we’re sharing goals, sharing strategies and trying to engage communities,” Varney said. “We’re not looking for a silver bullet here. It’s nuts and bolts.”

Paul Fuchcar, executive director of Chattanooga’s Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse Services, said it’s the “focus” of the new plan that is heartening for organizations like his.

“We’ve got a big problem, and if we don’t treat it, it gets exponentially worse,” he said.

Contact staff writer Kate Harrison at kharrison@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6673.

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