KNOXVILLE (WATE) – The University of Tennessee Medical Center is creating several new measures to hopefully stop the opioid epidemic in its tracks. This program sets up new protocols aimed at patients who come to the facility with an IV infection because of drug abuse.
The rules are clear. A patient must sign a form agreeing to the medical center’s “IV Drug Use Associated Infection Plan of Care.” The pilot program treats the infection, while at the same time working with other agencies to treat the addiction.
While the program isn’t mandatory, it gives patients the extra push they need to ask for help. The changes began Tuesday on four floors at UT Medical Center and there are hopes it becomes a community standard.
It took Angie Gilliam one hospital visit.
“I came to in ICU, the doctor standing over me, he said, ‘Young lady it is a miracle that you are alive,'” she said.
Since that day, Gilliam has been living clean for three years and seven months. She thinks the changes happening at UT Medical Center regarding IV drug abuse are a wise move.
“When you are in addiction, you have moments of clarity and it’s in those moments of clarity that you need to act,” said Gilliam.
Doctors at UT Medical Center say it’s a new approach where patients battling IV drug addiction will have to stay for several weeks and standardized care will be altered.
“We will have limitations on their hospital access, where they can go in the hospital because we don’t want them out on the grounds or in the parking lots where they could potentially meet someone trying to bring them illicit drugs, and also to some extent limiting their visitation policy,” said Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jerry Epps.
Epps says this will only impact a small population at the hospital, five to 12 patients at any given time. Those patients will also be linked with out-patient and addiction resources.
“One of the things we’re going to do is have a ‘Willingness to Change Evaluation’ and some of our partners in addiction treatment are going to send their specialists to do an assessment,” added Dr. Epps.
At Metro Drug Coalition, they believe the move re-frames the issue.
“If you don’t really treat the primary disease that’s causing the health issues, you’re really not doing people a whole lot of good. So I think this is a step in the right direction,” said MDC Executive Director Karen Pershing.
She adds two years’ worth of federal funding should be coming to the state of Tennessee soon which will help expand treatment to those who are uninsured. The state will receive $13.6 million each year.
“So we’re hopeful that we’re going to have increased access very quickly,” added Pershing.
Gilliam has a word of hope to anyone who may be wrestling with addiction.
“If someone is gracious enough to take the time to guide you into this new life, seize that moment. Don’t waste it. Don’t throw it away.”
Tennova Healthcare and Covenant Health both say they collaborate with the Knoxville Academy of Medicine’s Opioid Task Force. This force brings together hospitals and healthcare providers in Knoxville to develop consistent protocols addressing the problem.