Letter from Executive Director, Karen Pershing

This is a special time of year when we reflect on what transpired in one year, while looking ahead to the start of a new year. 2016 was certainly a successful and memorable one for Metro Drug Coalition (MDC). We rolled out our new brand to celebrate thirty years of serving our community as the primary prevention partnership uniting stakeholders and policy makers to educate, train and advocate to reduce the impact of substance abuse in the Knoxville area.   With help from board member Chuck Morris, Morris Creative Group, we have a new fresh look to our brand and have eased into our modified name change. Our goal was to more accurately articulate the work and mission of the organization, while maintaining a strong connection to our rich history. Not only did we roll out our new look, but we also had a 30th Anniversary celebration at the Jackson Terminal with over 200 in attendance. The keynote speaker was Sam Quinones, author of Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opioid Epidemic.

2016 also presented opportunities to host several federal government officials to share the great work being done in our area to address the opioid epidemic. In January, MDC hosted a Town Hall meeting with the Drug Czar, Michael Botticelli. Being in recovery from alcoholism, Mr. Botticelli was very interested in expanding access to evidence-based treatment services. Our next guests were the Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Dr. Robert M. Califf, and the U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek T. Murthy. While in Knoxville, Dr. Califf had the opportunity to tour the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital and gain a deeper understanding of the opioid epidemic’s tiniest victims, babies born with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS). He was very interested in suggestions from the clinical staff on what steps the FDA could take to prevent NAS and gathered information from other key states he visited following his trip to Knoxville. The Surgeon General, on the other hand, began his day meeting with medical leaders with the Knoxville Academy of Medicine, he then met with both state and local leaders, many of whom are members of the MDC’s Prescription Drug Task Force, in a roundtable discussion gaining insight on the challenges and successes we were seeing as a community and where the federal government may be able to assist. Dr. Murthy also facilitated a Grand Rounds discussion at University of Tennessee Medical Center and finished his day at the Knox County Health Department with a community Town Hall meeting, where he heard many stories from families who have been impacted by the disease of addiction.

In September, I was asked to join a two state discussion in Abingdon, Virginia with the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsak. Both Governor’s from Tennessee and Virginia addressed the Town Hall meeting and shared specific strategies they were deploying at the state level to address the opioid problem. Following the Governor’s discussion, there was a panel discussion where I had the privilege of representing anti-drug coalitions in Tennessee describing the work being done at the community level. If you were like me when I was asked to participate in this discussion, I wondered why the Secretary of Agriculture would have an interest. In a smaller, closed setting Secretary Vilsak shared his personal story of being touched by addiction as a child and the impact of having had that experience.

As well as hosting or participating in these extremely important visits, MDC also premiered a documentary, “Reaching for Recovery: Pregnancy and Addiction in East Tennessee.” In partnership with Land Grant Films through the University of Tennessee’s School of Journalism and Electronic Media, WBIR-TV 10’s Robin Wilhoit emceed the televised and live-streamed panel discussion following the documentary. The piece shared the journey of several young women with substance use disorders and also discussed the devastating impact of babies born with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome. Panelists included: Carla Saunders, neonatal nurse practitioner at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital, Dr. Martha Buchanan, Knox County Health Department, Evan Sexton, Renaissance of Recovery and myself.

In continuation of our efforts to reach Knox County School students through our education efforts, we launched the Youth Metro Drug Coalition (YMDC). Unlike other youth coalitions, this group of teens has been touched personally by substance abuse and is a place for them to heal, while using their experiences to create awareness activities to reach their peers. Positive Action curriculum is being used to assist those students to become stronger, more confident advocates for prevention. Eventually the plan is to have two representatives from each Knox County High School.

There were many, many more activities and collaborative efforts in 2016, but let’s move on to what you can anticipate from MDC in 2017.

  • Continue to develop and create a collaborative effort among first responders on naloxone life-saving measures
  • Educate another 100 medical providers on addiction science and screening for early signs of risky substance use behavior
  • Launching “Hands of Hope” – peer mentoring program for new first-time Moms early in recovery and pairing them with a mom who is stable in recovery through the first year of the babies’ lives
  • Continue to recruit youth to YMDC to represent all high schools
  • Advocate for increased access to primary prevention and treatment for those with active addiction
  • Launch new MDC website
  • Continued movement of the Prescription Drug Task Force to accomplish the community level action plan to reduce prescribing, neonatal abstinence syndrome births and opioid overdose deaths
  • Update the youth risk behavior survey data and identify any emerging shifts among high school students
  • Emphasize safe storage of medication in homes, disposal of unwanted medications and expansion of options for medication disposal
  • Educate, educate, educate

As always, MDC looks forward to continue to work with all of our amazing collaborative partners. No one agency or organization can begin to address substance use issues on their own. We all play a critical role in improving the health of our community by reducing the impact of substance use and abuse. MDC welcomes anyone to the table who has a passion and willingness to get involved.

Here’s to a happy and healthy 2017!