Updated: Feb 23
Death by overdose is not the only variable of harm the opioid epidemic causes in Tennessee. Opioid addiction can also be linked to increased risk of contracting diseases such as HIV or Hepatitis C and raises the risks of domestic violence.
Nonprofits like Change is Possible, a family violence shelter located in Erwin, Tennessee, have been aiding and providing resources to people with addiction for many years. In recent years, as the opioid epidemic has moved to the forefront, nonprofits have had to adapt to provide new services and save lives.
“I have most definitely seen an increase in people seeking shelter since the opioid crisis,” said Renae Tipton, community educator and program coordinator for CHIPS.
Opioids are a class of drug that include legally prescribed pain medications from a doctor. A person with an opioid addiction may rely on one or a combination of the substances labeled as opioids.
According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, the opioid epidemic began in the late 1990s when doctors increased the number of prescription painkillers they prescribed after being assured by pharmaceutical companies there would be no addictions to the medications. By 2017 addictive qualities were being linked to opioids as 47,000 people in the U.S. died of opioid overdoses, and two million Americans reported having a substance abuse issue regarding opioids.
In the same year, 1,269 Tennesseans died from overdose, and Tennessee experienced an opioid overdose rate five percentage points higher than the national average. Although the state decreased the overall number of opioids prescribed by 25%, the prescribing rate in 2017 was 1.5 times the national average.
CHIPS has been providing resources to residents of Greene County, Carter County and Unicoi County since 1992. These resources include shelter, counseling, court advocacy and a 24-hour hotline to victims of domestic violence and those with an opioid addiction. They also have a thrift store to help fund the organization and sponsor outreach programs to teach communities about bullying, domestic violence and the effect of domestic violence on children.
“CHIPS understands that everyone has coping mechanisms and that unfortunately most of those are unhealthy, such as drug usage,” said Tipton.
Due to the increase in opioid overdoses in Tennessee, the CHIPS office staff are all trained to administer naloxone, nasal spray that can be admitted to someone overdosing on opioids. Staff are also trained to handle a situation where opioids are being used, as well as safe coping mechanisms to teach those with an opioid addiction.
Annie Oxendine is a sales associate at the CHIPS thrift store located in downtown Erwin. The thrift store collects donations, sells donated items to fund the shelter and has hotline and community outreach programs.
“This is a job with purpose,” Oxendine said. “It feels good knowing the work you are doing is helping people.”
CHIPS Thrift Store sales associates are not trained in the administration of naloxone. However, in the office next door, everyone is trained in naloxone administration and employees have been made aware of this.
The cost of the opioid epidemic is not measured only by the lives lost, but also by the economic resources the U.S. uses to try and control the epidemic. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the economic implications related to opioid use had already cost the U.S. $78.5 billion by 2016. This money was spent on healthcare, addiction treatment and other resources such as the training and distributing of naloxone to the public.