Lawmakers debate what should be done about Tenn.’s opioid crisis


 Everyone agrees that something should be done about Tennessee’s opioid epidemic, but exactly what remains a debate among state lawmakers.

Within the next few days and weeks, they are expected to take key votes concerning Governor Bill Haslam’s $30 million plan, along with a few competing bills.

The debate starts with the five-day prescription limit imposed by the governor’s opioid bill.

“It’s the morphine equivalent of those pills that is the main point of conversation and contention right now,” said Rep. David Hawk, who is sponsoring the governor’s plan.

On the other side of the issue with a competing bill concerning limits is Rep. Cameron Sexton.

“We don’t think we should be making it a burden on patients who need pain medications, which there are a lot in the state of Tennessee,” Sexton said.

They are two Republican lawmakers who say they are trying to get to the same place while using different paths concerning the limits and exemptions for opioid prescriptions.

The issue has been one stumbling block to the governor’s plan proposed in January called “Tennessee Together.”

As sponsor of the governor’s bills, Representative David Hawk argues for the five day limit in opioid prescriptions.

“Folks with the Department of Health in Tennessee have shown that if someone is prescribed beyond those five days – for every day beyond that that – they have the pills, a certain percentage is more likely to become addicted,” Rep. Hawk told News 2.

Rep. Sexton worries about too many restrictions on patients whose doctors believe they need the opioid painkillers.

“Whether you have a toothache or wisdom teeth pulled or having surgery–we don’t feel like the patient should have an excess burden if you are trying to get that legitimately– for a legitimate pain concern,” explained Rep. Sexton.

Rep. Hawk hopes people remember why opioid prescription limits are needed.

“What we are trying to do is limit that initial opioid prescription to keep someone from becoming depending on that,” said the lawmaker.

Governor Haslam’s opioid plan focuses broadly on prevention, treatment and law enforcement.

Along with prescription restrictions that he says may do patients more harm than good, Rep. Sexton cites another area lawmakers are debating.

“There is a huge discussion out there about how much time it takes to go through a true treatment plan which is 18 to 24 months and we don’t want to short change people in that process.”

And there are some who say the governor’s bill does not go far enough in that area.

No one said there would be a quick fix to the opioid epidemic on Tennessee’s Capitol Hill.

Despite differences, the lawmakers vow to have a bill dealing with opioid prescription limits and exemptions–and the other major provisions of the Governor’s bill–before they go home this year.

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