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There’s something to learn from Dreamland here in 'God’s Country'

Miles Burdine, Guest Commentary • Nov 4, 2018 at 8:30 AM

Every Tennessean I know refers to their hometown as “God’s Country,” and I know for certain that it’s true for Northeast Tennessee.

And in Northeast Tennessee, we don’t run from our problems. So as we come to grips with an opioid epidemic cutting short the promise of an increasing number of lives, we must come together — as we do — to find the solutions.

The U.S. lost 300,000 people to accidental overdoses in the past 15 years. In the next five years, we could lose another 300,000.

In Tennessee, data from the state Department of Health shows 1,776 Tennesseans died from drug overdoses in 2017 with prescription opioids continuing to be the most common drugs associated with overdose deaths.

And in 2016, there were 18.1 deaths per 100,000 Tennesseans — 40 percent higher than the national rate of 13.3 deaths per 100,000 Americans.

But as I mentioned, we don’t run from our problems. There are good people working together every day to end this epidemic.

President Donald Trump recently signed into law Sen. Lamar Alexander’s, R-Tenn., SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act to help combat the opioid crisis. Gov. Bill Haslam and the General Assembly have taken dramatic steps and are making progress. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee has been working to put responsible limits and safeguards in place for prescription opioids. A focus area of Ballad Health — the result of a merger between Wellmont Health System and Mountain States Health Alliance — is opioid addiction.

That’s why the Kingsport Chamber has partnered with the Bristol Chamber of Commerce, Johnson City Chamber of Commerce, East Tennessee State University, Ballad Health, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee, and Leadership Tennessee to host a discussion about the opioid epidemic with Sam Quinones, author of “Dreamland.”

In 1929, the blue-collar city of Portsmouth, Ohio, built a swimming pool the size of a football field. It was named “Dreamland,” and it became the heartbeat of the community. But addiction now devastates Portsmouth, like so many other small rural towns and suburbs across the U.S.

Quinones’s account reveals the corrosive threat facing thousands of American neighborhoods and communities.

I want to encourage anyone who can to come to the MeadowView Marriott Conference Resort and Convention Center in Kingsport on Nov. 12 at 9 a.m. to participate in this critical conversation. It’s free and open to the public. Attendees should reserve their seat by going to the following link: www.leadershiptennessee.org/sqkingsport.

Because wherever you might call “God’s Country,” I know there is something to learn from “Dreamland.”

Miles Burdine is the president and CEO of the Kingsport Chamber, a Class V member of Leadership Tennessee, the state’s pre-eminent leadership education organization, and a member of the BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee board of directors.

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