In August of 2013, the Metropolitan Drug Commission convened stakeholders from the Tennessee Department of Health, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, Knoxville Police Department, Knox County Sheriff’s Office, Knox County District Attorney’s office, South College School of Pharmacy, Knox County Medical Examiner’s office, University of Tennessee College of Nursing, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Tennessee House of Representatives and Leadership from the Knoxville Academy of Medicine joined together to create a plan to reduce the impact the prescription drug epidemic is having in Knoxville/Knox County.

Initially, the thought was to make sure everyone was aware of state legislation that had been passed in the last few years and how those changes pertained to their particular role. The Tennessee Department of Health was also interested in engaging a community that would be willing to be a beta site for data collection and monitoring. This meeting proved to be an excellent opportunity for everyone to identify common concerns and create action plans.

The group has been meeting faithfully on a monthly basis and members are passionate and committed to reducing the effects this epidemic is having on our community. The top three issues identified by the members were:
1. A law requiring presentation of identification when picking up a scheduled drug from a pharmacy
2. Putting an emergency suspension/revocation of a DEA number for a provider who is under investigation for overprescribing
3. Continuing to strengthen pain management clinic rules and regulations

There were other issues identified, but these rose to the top. Through this group of committed individuals, an ID bill was drafted and is in process of passing in the General Assembly. Team members spent many hours on this bill and the negotiated amendments suggested by other stakeholder groups. Representative Bill Dunn asked Representative Bob Ramsey (Blount Co Representative and Chair of the health subcommittee) to take the lead on the bill. He, in turn, commissioned Senator Ken Yager (Roane Co.) to sponsor the bill on the Senate side. In spite of the fact that they had approximately 3,000 bills filed this session, these legislators have been committed to seeing this bill through. We can’t thank them enough!

Another suggestion coming from the group was to make the drug naloxone more widely available in Tennessee. Naloxone is a drug that can be administered to those experiencing an accidental drug overdose and if administered promptly is capable of restoring normal breathing patterns. The Tennessee Department of Health added this item to their legislative package and will be signed into law. Other states that have passed such laws have seen a dramatic increase in the numbers of lives saved.

After pondering over the suspension of a DEA issue, the group has put that action item on hold. There are many confounding factors that have to be resolved before a suspension process can be put in place in Tennessee. After recognizing the passion members expressed around pain management clinics, committee members agreed to shift their energy towards strengthening pain clinic regulations. Through this effort, there is hope to reduce the number of clinics who are over prescribing narcotics with limited medical supervision.

“This work is not easy and very complex, but the group is passionate and committed to reversing the grip prescription drug abuse has on our community”, stated Karen Pershing, Executive Director of the Metropolitan Drug Commission.