Battling opioid crisis in Tennessee

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HAMILTON COUNTY, Tenn. (WDEF) — According to health experts, 1,186 people died from opioid overdoses in Tennessee in 2016.

“What it took from me was my soul. My care for anything,” Douglas Thomas II said.

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Thomas is a recovering heroin addict. He says he started with marijuana when he was a teenager and then moved to prescription pain killers.

“It lead to heroin due to the high costs of pharmaceuticals, couldn’t afford them, the availability was not always there,” Thomas said.

Thomas went through different treatment programs and found help from the Oxford House, which is a self-run. self-supported addiction recovery facility.



“The common bond that addicts have for one another, one addict helping another, is without parallel. It is the best thing that could happen to anybody that is struggling,” Thomas said.

On Monday, Dr. Nita Shumaker, the president of the Tennessee Medical Association, spoke at the Regional Health Council’s monthly meeting about the opioid crisis at the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department.

She says Tennessee is one of the highest prescribing states.

“Well I think that we have gotten used to the fact that if you have a broken leg you are going to need ton of pain medication and that may or may not be true. physicians are starting to use other interventions like pain medicine like nerve blocks, etcetera that help you not have pain,” Dr. Shumaker said.

She says when people are done with their pain medications they should properly dispose of it.

“But it is imperative that those medicines not sit in our cabinets as eighty percent of heroine users start with a prescription of opioid, not their own necessarily,” Dr. Shumaker said.

For people struggling with addiction, Thomas says there is hope.

“I was homeless living on the streets with a needle in my arm five months ago. I live in a 3500 foot square house that are doing the same thing I am doing. There are amenities out there that people aren’t aware about,” Thomas said.

The Oxford House will host a community awareness mixer on June 18 at the Marriott in downtown Chattanooga.