‘Opioid Initiative’ to combat drugs

By ALLEN MINCEY Staff Writer
Posted 8/15/17

The opioid epidemic has not only hit the nation, but Bradley County as well. Tenth Judicial District Attorney General Steve Crump says that it will take law enforcement, medical authorities and …

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‘Opioid Initiative’ to combat drugs

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The opioid epidemic has not only hit the nation, but Bradley County as well. Tenth Judicial District Attorney General Steve Crump says that it will take law enforcement, medical authorities and the general public to stop that plague before lives are lost.

Crump has instituted an “Opioid Initiative” to combat the issue, which he said Monday is an addition or abuse where “more Tennesseans will die … than in homicides or car accidents this year. Untold thousands more will suffer from this epidemic if we do not act.”

Crump made Monday’s announcement in a detailed news release. He also gave comments to the Cleveland Daily Banner about the epidemic following the release.

“In 2016, 22 Bradley Countians died from an opioid overdose,” the DA said. “Through seven months of 2017, we have already had 18 overdoses. We are on track to nearly double the number of deaths this year.

“We are on track to nearly double the number of deaths this year,” Crump added.

The district attorney general said that to address the issue, his office is taking a series of steps to stem the tide in the four-county district.

“We will build on our strong prosecution of opioid dealers. We will look at the emerging trends and increase prosecution of those who introduce these drugs into the stream of commerce. We will utilize the civil courts to try to hold those accountable who would profit off this plague. We will work in the schools and civic clubs to increase awareness and encourage prevention. Treatment is a necessary part of the solution and we will start looking for funding for local treatment options to help those already trapped in addiction.”

One of the most talked about opioids in recently months is fentanyl, a drug that can be deadly not only if taken internally, but also by touch. Crump and 10th Judicial District Drug Task Force Director Bill Cherry said earlier this year, in an interview with the Banner, that this is a problem being seen more often. In fact, they said that there have not only been arrests made in the district for possession of this narcotic, but deaths have occurred which seems to point to fentanyl use.

“We are seeing fentanyl much more frequently in Bradley County and this may be the most dangerous substance we have dealt with yet,” Crump said. “Mere exposure to the skin can cause overdoses, and recently, a West Tennessee Drug Task Force made an interdiction stop and seized 22 pounds of fentanyl. That is enough to kill, by overdose, every man, woman and child in West Tennessee”

Both Crump and Cherry were involved in an information session at Walker Valley High School last week.

“We have begun reaching out to schools and civic organizations, and that process will continue over the next months in all four counties,” Crump said. “The panel at Walker Valley High School where we spoke to all the faculty and staff of the Bradley County School system was a very significant first step.

“I cannot say enough about the leadership of (Bradley County Schools director) Dr. Linda Cash. She, along with her administration and faculty, are hitting this head on and really striving to make a difference,” said Crump. “We hope to see the Cleveland City Schools system become more engaged with us during this school year.”

Crump said that the “Opioid Initiative” consists of five components: increased prosecution for dealers, pharmaceutical company liability, working with community partners, creation of a stakeholders advisory group and more treatment options.

“Our office will continue to punish the ‘street dealers’ of opioids,” he said. “We have been doing that for years and we will continue that practice.”

Crump said that his office will work with federal partners in those prosecutions that may come from opioid sales and possession, and the Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit will begin “aggressively pursuing health care providers who seek to make a profit off these drugs and the addictions they create.”

As such, the DA’s office will be joining with other district attorneys generals by seeking civil damages from the pharmaceutical companies who have violated the law.

“All four counties of the 10th Judicial District will be covered in this litigation and there will be no cost for any of our counties,” Crump said.

The initiative group will continue to work with agencies such as The Bridge and the GRAAB Coalition to educate the community on the dangers of opioids.

An advisory group will be formed to include health care providers, educators, law enforcement and the public “to help us make good public policy decisions and help allocate prosecution resources,” Crump said.

He emphasized he will pursue funding for more local treatment options.

“We cannot rely on Nashville or Washington to make this happen. The people of the 10th Judicial District can and will find a method and funding for more treatments, including this office looking to increase funding for the recovery court.

“This office is committed to this endeavor,” Crump said. “We need the help of local elected officials and the public. We need the public to care enough to work with us. We need students to care enough about their classmates to prevent more tragic deaths.

“Most importantly, we need the resolve to say that we will not sit by and simply allow this to happen” Crump stressed.

There is no time frame for creation of the “Opioid Initiative,” but with the problem growing every day, the District Attorney General’s office will begin instituting these components very soon.

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