New laws change opioid fight in Tennessee

New laws to combat the opioid crisis represent a “game-changer” in Tennessee, according to an addiction recovery expert.

  • The latest legislation makes it easier for residents and advocacy groups to obtain naloxone, a medication that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.

Why it matters: Opioids, particularly the potent synthetic opioid fentanyl, continue to drive alarming numbers of overdose deaths in Nashville.

  • Tennessee is among the top five in the country for the rate of overdose deaths.

What they’re saying: Mary Linden Salter, executive director of the Tennessee Association of Alcohol, Drug & other Addiction Services, told local officials the new law was “one of the best things that we’ve been able to do” to fight deadly overdoses.

By the numbers: The Metro Council Public Health and Safety committee hosted a meeting last week analyzing opioid trends.

  • There are about 104 suspected overdoses per week in Nashville that require emergency medical response, according to health department data.
  • There were 352 suspected overdose deaths in Nashville during the first half of the year.
  • Fentanyl was detected in more than 75% of those cases, per the health department. The synthetic opioid can be added to counterfeit pills and other drugs without the user’s knowledge.

Driving the news: There has been a jump in the number of overdose calls where multiple doses of naloxone is needed, suggesting more potent substances are creeping into the local drug supply.

State of play: Salter, who spoke at the committee meeting, told the council a raft of new legislation passed this year would likely save lives in the face of those trends.

  • In addition to a law that makes it easier to get naloxone from a pharmacist, legislators approved a law that allows people to get fentanyl testing strips and a law that requires providers to offer naloxone alongside most opioid prescriptions.

Former Mayor Megan Barrywhose son Max died of a drug overdose in 2017, returned to the council chamber during the committee meeting last week.

  • In an emotional speech, she urged city leaders and residents to fight the stigma surrounding substance abuse.

What she’s saying: Barry said she initially chose not to share information about her son’s addiction, in part because she wanted to shield him from judgment.

  • “If we had treated this like a disease instead of a moral failure I believe Max would still be here today,” she told the committee.
  • “If only we had known that our shame and guilt was preventing us from a deeper understanding of what was going to happen.”

Flashback: Barry has become an outspoken voice in the opioid crisis. But her return to the chamber, where she served as an at-large council member for two terms before becoming mayor, was noteworthy.

  • Barry resigned from office in 2018 as part of a deal with prosecutors after an affair with the head of her security detail became public.

☎️ If you need information on substance abuse treatment, you can contact the Tennessee Redline at 800-889-9789.

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