KNOXVILLE (WATE) - United States Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy made a stop in Knoxville Tuesday.
It is the first time someone in the position has visited the city since 1992. During his trip, Dr. Murthy met with medical professionals, patients and members of the community to better understand the threat of opioid addiction in the country.
"The surgeon general asked for a private meeting with 10-15 people who are on the front line of this every day whether that be physicians, case managers, folks from the community to talk about the issue and learn what's going on in the front line and how it's being addressed and the impact it has on not only the community but on those people trying to provide care for those individuals who have these addictions," said John Sheridan, Vice President of Government Relations at UT Medical Center.
Tennessee ranks second, per capita, in prescribing painkillers and other prescription drugs in the country, just behind Alabama.
"He hopes to achieve a greater understanding of the opioid problem and the impact it's having on local communities across the United States," said Karen Pershing, Executive Director of the Metro Drug Coalition. It's just always exciting when you get a head of a federal organization coming to Knoxville to really learn about what's going on in the community and to be able to take information back to the federal government because a lot of the things that we do there are a lot of rules and regulations and systems that are created at that federal level that can either help or harm you at the local level when you're trying to solve a problem."
He concluded his visit Tuesday night with a town hall open to the public at the Knox County Health Department. People were invited to attend the event and ask questions, ranging from opioid use to the Zika virus. Most of the discussion focused around opioid addiction.
"We can either as a country say this problem is too big for us to solve and we're just going to try to incarcerate everybody who's addicted and hope for the best or we can say that we're actually going to come together and fashion solutions for this problem," said Dr. Murthy.
Mariama Chayehoi was in attendance. She has never personally dealt with addiction but has seen it in the community.
"I've been here for 13 years and I know that addiction is very stigmatized," she said. "I liked the way he was trying to be proactive about it and engaging the whole community. It's just like it takes a village to raise a child."
Dr. Murthy told the town hall Knoxville has made some good steps forward, including providing naloxone to first responders. He also said there is still a long way to go all across the country.
"I want the next time I come here to be able to celebrate with you the further steps that you've taken to expand treatment, to change prescribing practices," he said.
Knoxville was the sixth stop on his tour. He will head to Nashville Wednesday.