Prescription drug abuse has long been a problem in our region, where painkillers have replaced heroin and cocaine as recreation drugs of choice. It is a problem that costs Tennesseans millions of dollars annually in inflated health care bills and crowded emergency rooms.
State officials estimate that more than 221,000 Tennesseans have used prescription pain relievers for non-medical purposes in the past year. Of that number, 69,000 of them are addicted to the drugs.
That’s why Gov. Bill Haslam and Douglas Varney, the state’s commissioner of mental health and substance abuse service, have decided to take on the problem. Earlier this week, the two unveiled a new policy that includes 33 recommendations to address a problem that inflicts one out of 20 Tennesseans. One of those proposals is the implementation of drug courts.
The bottom line is locking up a drug offender does not solve the problem of addiction. Treatment is the only solution.
Washington County Sessions Court has implemented drug court that promises to help misdemeanor offenders who wish to shed the shackles of drug dependency. It involves a team consisting of judges, prosecutors, public defenders, law enforcement officials and mental health care providers working together to help defendants get the treatment they desperately need.
Hawkins, Greene and Sullivan counties also have similar programs in their in Sessions courts. Expanding the concept to other courts may be a good tool for both easing jail overcrowding and helping defendants get the counseling they need to stay out of trouble with drugs and the law.