State panel recommends more funds, restrictions to combat Tennessee opioid crisis

State panel recommends more funds, restrictions to combat Tennessee opioid crisis

September 6th, 2017 by Andy Sher in Breaking News

FILE - In this Nov. 17, 2016, file photo, House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, responds to the announcement that she has won the Republican nomination to serve another two-year term as speaker. Harwell is considering a bid to succeed term-limited Republican Gov. Bill Haslam in 2018. (AP Photo/Erik Schelzig, File)

Photo by The Associated Press /Times Free Press.

NASHVILLE — Two dozen new Tennessee Bureau of Investigation agents, a multifaceted public awareness campaign and an end to anyone walking into pain clinics without a physician's referral are among final recommendations approved Wednesday by a state House legislative task force grappling with Tennessee's opioid crisis.

The task force, created by House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, has been meeting for months about steps that should be taken in a state with one of the nation's worst death rates from pain drug overdoses.

"They are not the end of the battle," Harwell said of the recommendations prior to their adoption. "We will continue to look at ways to combat the problem."

Besides recommendations calling for 25 new TBI agents to deal with narcotic pain drug issues and new requirements requiring independent referrals to pain clinics — one task force member called them "pill mills" — other provisions adopted by Harwell's task force include:

  • Further limiting supplies of controlled drugs issued by emergency rooms, now limited to 30-day supplies.
  • Appeal to the Trump administration to continue second-year funding of the CURE Act to Tennessee and other states. Monies are used to fight opioid addiction.
  • Create a new Commission to Combat Drug Abuse that would meet quarterly to review programs and make recommendations both to the governor and General Assembly.
  • Foster ways to develop consistent approaches among Tennessee's 95 counties to accurately count the number of deaths caused by overdoses.

Citing the situation in Ohio, where one county official has described drug overdose deaths as a "mass casualty event," Tennessee task force member, Rep. Kevin Brooks, R-Cleveland, said the state should look at creating such a designation here and explore whether there might be additional federal funding available as a result.

Harwell later told reporters she will review the dozens of recommendations with an eye toward action come January.

It is "a priority for this body and we'd like to see additional funding in the governor's budget," Harwell said. "But if not I think you'll see the General Assembly move to provide for more treatment for our citizens."

This story was updated Sept. 6 at 11:59 p.m. with more information.