Democrats Propose $ 250 Million Fund to Fight Opioids – Ten Times the Republican Proposal. Republican Plan is a “Drop in the Bucket.”
Democrats responded to the Governor’s State of the State Address by introducing their own plan to radically increase funding to fight Tennessee’s opioid crisis.
“Sadly, the Governor’s paltry 25 million opioid plan represents a business-as-usual approach to the opioid crisis – our communities are facing a dire emergency and we need to take bold action to stem the tide of opioids that is destroying Tennessee’s families and communities,” said Democratic House Caucus Chair Mike Stewart. “The Governor was willing to eliminate a hundred million dollars a year when they repealed the estate tax on Tennessee’s richest families but proposes to spend a quarter of that amount on Tennessee’s most pressing health crisis – we can obviously do much better,” Stewart added.
“This disagreement isn’t politics, its math,” Democratic Senate Caucus Chair Jeff Yarbro said. “If you look at the numbers, we would get a fraction of the people who need it into treatment, when we had 21,000 overdoses that led to death or hospitalization last year. We believe this is a fight we could actually win, if the Governor’s hands weren’t tied behind his back by the supermajority leadership.”
“The easiest way to get many Tennesseans much needed treatment is to expand healthcare, as we’ve been urging the Republicans to do for years,” Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh stated. “If the Republicans won’t do that, then we need to put the resources in the budget to adequately address the crisis.”
Democrats pointed to alarming statistics to underscore the crisis currently faced by Tennessee’s communities:
The number of overdose deaths in Tennessee continues to skyrocket, with over 1600 deaths in 2016, a 12 percent increase over the prior year. More Tennessee citizens now die of opioid overdoses than car accidents.
From 2005 to 2016, the number of Tennessee babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome has increased six-fold.
The economic costs of opioid abuse in Tennessee are estimated at $2 Billion annually, including 1.29 billion in income lost because people have dropped out of the job market and $422.5 million for hospitalizations associated with opioid abuse.
Vermont obtained a special Medicaid waiver to subsidize their approach to opioid addiction. As a result, Medicaid alone now pays for most of the expenses incurred by the system’s more than 8,000 opioid addiction patients, each of whom costs on average nearly $16,000 a year.
“We saw with the crack epidemic that failure to provide treatment to addicts hurt families and for years made it difficult if not impossible to really get the problem under control. In this drug crisis, as any, government should respond effectively and equally to the total community. Let’s not repeat past mistakes with this new crisis,” stated Assistant House Democratic Leader Joe Towns.
 Holly Fletcher, “Tennessee overdose deaths jump 12% in 2016, as opioid crisis rages,” Nashville Tennessean (September 18,2017).
 Sycamore Institute, “The Opioid Epidemic in Tennessee: Key Policy Milestones and Indicators of Progress” (2017).