Johnson City

State leaders met with Johnson City agencies about plan to reduce drug abuse

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. - Prescription For Success is a plan to fight the drug abuse epidemic in Tennessee. There are more than 32,000 adults addicted to drugs in the Tri-Cities, according to the Department of Mental Health.

State leaders were in Johnson City on Friday, asking local agencies to help put that plan into action.

We're told it is the first time multiple state agencies have created a comprehensive plan. More than eight departments came up with the seven step method to fight the problem from prevention all the way to recovery.

A group of about 50 medical professionals, state lawmakers and judges gathered to hear what the Prescription For Success plan includes.They also had the chance to weigh in on the problem in focus groups.

The executive director of Families Free, Lisa Tipton, spoke at the event. Families Free provides case management services to the Department of Children's Services.

Tipton said she has worked with hundreds of families who are trapped in the cycle of addiction.

"What we've seen time and time and time again is substance abuse and criminal activity that trap many of these women and families in a cycle that they can't seem to get out of," she said.

The Department of Mental Health gave us new data on Friday that shows how serious that problem has become. Since the beginning of the year, about 70 babies have been born drug dependent in the Tri-Cities, out of 484 cases statewide.

State leaders are asking local agencies to do things like provide drug disposal options in every county and get more addicts into early treatment services. They're also coming up with guidelines for prescribing opioids, expanding the "Take Only As Directed" media campaign, and providing more state funding for evidence-based treatment services for people who are unable to pay for treatment on their own.

All of these initiatives, and more, are outlined in the Prescription For Success plan.

The commissioner of the Department of Mental Health has told us it will take time to see the effects of this plan.

Frontier Health's Senior Vice President Randy Vessee said he's confident this plan will work. Frontier Health offers addiction treatment services.

"It's got the cooperation of other departments in state government," Vessee said. "When you have Corrections working with Children's Services, Department of Education, then everybody's sitting at the table, then it becomes a community effort."

A recovering drug addict, Jason Abernathy, told his story at the meeting. He worked in law enforcement but became addicted to prescription medications after an injury. Abernathy said he also abused alcohol.

"I should've checked out many times through my shenanigans over the years," said Abernathy. "There is a good reason why I'm here, to share my experience, strength and hope in recovery so that maybe somebody will hear that."

He now works for Lifelines of Tennessee, talking to other addicts about treatment options.

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