House Speaker Beth Harwell Creates Legislative Task Force On Opioid Abuse

Earlier this year, House Speaker Beth Harwell (R-Nashville) created a task force on opioid and prescription drug abuse. The task force’s immediate goal was to work on legislation for the year, but its efforts will be ongoing to determine the best strategies for tackling the opioid epidemic. Tennessee is consistently ranked at the top of the charts nationally in reference to prescription drug abuse.

In 2015, 1,451 Tennesseans died from drug overdoses, the highest annual number in the state’s history. In addition, the number of babies born who have been chronically exposed to opioids is high, particularly in East Tennessee. The Tennessee Department of Health reports that from 2000 to 2012, the rate of babies born with exposure increased 15 fold.

The Centers for Disease Control estimates that prescription opioid abuse has a total economic burden of $78.5 billion per year in the United States. There is an estimated $7.7 billion criminal justice cost across the country.

Speaker Harwell kicked off the group’s first meeting with an address to those in attendance:

“Around the country, and especially here in Tennessee, we are facing an epidemic. We really are at the epicenter of the opioid crisis in America. There are more opioid prescriptions than there are people in this state.

We have some great people and groups that are dedicating themselves to tackling this problem. My hope is that this task force will look into the possibility of pilot programs, measure results of these programs, and determine best practices. The legislature has taken some great steps to fight this epidemic, but if additional legislation is needed, I want the task force to develop it.

I ask that you look into the treatment options that are available — and really delve into that data to see if there is a program being administered that we need to take statewide. Perhaps there are pilot programs across the state that could have a widespread, lasting impact on this crisis.

I’ll finish with this: since I announced the formation of this task force, I have been inundated with people from around the state sharing extremely personal and heartbreaking stories of addiction, and how it has touched them personally. It is an outpouring of people who want to help, and who are begging for a solution. It has driven home for me how incredibly important this work is.

Again, thank you for agreeing to serve. Thank you to everyone who is here today and those who come to future meetings for your interest. Now, let’s get to work.”

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