Governor candidate Black hears opioid treatment, prevention ideas from ETSU experts

Zach Vance • Updated Feb 19, 2018 at 6:25 PM

As a registered nurse, U.S. Rep. Diane Black, R-6th always wants to see the evidence.

So naturally, as a Republican gubernatorial candidate, Black sought advice on opioid treatment and prevention policy from the scholars and researchers helping create evidence-based approaches in a field of study that, to this day, remains somewhat ambiguous.

On Monday morning, while campaigning in the Tri-Cities, Black stopped by East Tennessee State University’s Bill Gatton of College of Pharmacy to participate in a roundtable discussion with officials from the university’s Center for Prescription Drug Abuse, Prevention and Treatment, a trailblazer in addiction treatment and prevention research.

Accompanied by former Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, who now serves as her campaign co-chair, Black listened attentively and asked many questions, even interjecting at times to ask for clarification or provide her own feedback.

“It’s a good dialogue we had in the room, and we talked about some of the projects they’re doing. (I’m) always looking at evidence-based. That’s what I’m really about is the things they can show me that do work,” Black said.

During a discussion about possible legislation that curtails overprescribing while keeping opioids accessible to people with legitimate needs, Black immediately became intrigued by a proposal from Dr. Sarah Melton, a professor at the pharmaceutical college.

Rather than enforcing overprescribing through actual legislation, Melton said Virginia passed a bill that authorized the Virginia Board of Medicine to come up with its own enforceable regulations.

“It's working. The regulations that came out, we're seeing a dramatic decrease in opioids being prescribed,” Melton said. “It’s a wonderful model. We’ve got the data for almost a year, and we’re not seeing patients that legitimately have chronic pain being kicked to the curb, which we were afraid of. So, I’ve got all that data I’m happy to share with you.”

Black, half jokingly and half seriously, wanted more. “So you’re going to write this for me, right?” she asked.

“Absolutely,” Melton responded.

Black said hearing ideas, like Melton’s, is what makes roundtable discussions so valuable.

“I could come here and listen to all the right things you all do, but I could actually get on the internet and see all that. I could read all that. But that’s what these meetings, for me, are all about. I want to hear from the experts and you have just given me a perfect plan.”

When asked if she thought marijuana had a place in treating opioid addiction as some preliminary studies have suggested, Black was quick to point toward the evidence from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a branch of the National Institute on Health.

“We want to make sure that the research is showing, and right now research that is being done by NIH ... There is no evidence right now, at least at this point in time,” Black said.

On the NIH’s website, it states preliminary studies have suggested medical marijuana legalization might be associated with decreased prescription opioid use and decreased overdose deaths, but researchers don’t have enough evidence yet to confirm this finding.

NIH is funding additional studies to determine the link between medical marijuana and the use or misuse of opioids for pain, but until the FDA and NIH confirm its viable for treating certain ailments, Black said she would not sign a bill legalizing any use of the substance.

“I will say that I’ve actually talked to the folks over at NIH about this issue and there have been some small studies showing that children with this Charlotte’s Web (hemp extract oil) — which is what everybody uses as the reason why we should be making this legal — that there are some studies showing maybe some effectiveness with using cannabis oil. But it has to be done with treatment of other medications for the child,” Black said.

“There is nothing out there yet that says this is safe and that we would say to a parent to go ahead and use it. So I want to caution people about giving their children something that is not shown in research to be effective. There have been children that have died as a result of this.”

Although Black likely referenced children who have died in the past as a result of being given a substance not yet proven in research, Drug Enforcement Administration statistics show nobody has ever died of a marijuana overdose.

Recommended for You