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Harwell’s Opioid Task Force Releases Initial Recommendations

Story from The Tennessean

A legislative task force released its recommendations on combating Tennessee’s opioid epidemic Wednesday, issuing nearly two dozen recommendations to address what one lawmaker said could be “a mass casualty event in Tennessee.”

The seven-member special task force was convened by House Speaker Beth Harwell in January to examine new approaches to pain pill addiction and its impact.

The recommendations include:

  • Adding 25 agents to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation in the next year
  • More limits on the number of controlled drugs prescribed in emergency rooms and by healthcare professionals. Currently there is a 30-day pill limit.
  • Establishing a Tennessee Commission to Combat Drug Abuse.
  • Urging the White House to renew funding to combat opioid addiction. Under the Obama Administration, Tennessee was awarded $13.8 million
  • Encouraging the Department of Health, law enforcement and medical examiners to develop consistent approaches to determining overdose deaths.

► In-depth coverage: Tennessee’s opioid crisis

The last recommendation was added Wednesday after a USA TODAY NETWORK-Tennessee found that drug overdose deaths  already at an all-time high in Tennessee – are widely undercounted.

More: Investigation: How many lives are lost to opioids? No one knows.

The investigation found multiple levels of breakdowns in death investigations making it impossible to accurately determine opioid overdose mortality rates.

“Being from a rural county, my coroner is a former funeral director, so he has no expertise,” said Rep. Curtis Halford, a republican representing Dyer County. “It’s very important for us in rural districts.”

For one lawmaker, the task force recommendations don’t go far enough.

“We can have task forces and action plans for decades without making the difference we need,” said Sen. Jeff Yarbro, a Nashville democrat.

Yarbro filed a joint resolution Wednesday authorizing the governor to expand Medicaid in Tennessee as a way to expand healthcare and treatment options for addicts.

The task force didn’t put a price tag on its recommendations. That will be left to staff at the General Assembly’s fiscal review team. Lawmakers will then need to approve funding after they reconvene in January.

The committee will “make it very clear that funding is a priority,” Harwell said. “This is an ongoing battle and it does not end today.”

Reach Anita Wadhwani at 615-259-8092, awadhwani@tennessean.com or on Twitter @AnitaWadhwani.

 

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