Tennessee creates program to help families affected by opioid addiction

Photo illustration by Hard Knox Wire

by Dulce Torres Guzman, Tennessee Lookout

Tennessee families will soon receive state-funded assistance to battle addiction and keep children out of foster care.

On Monday, the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse announced a 5-year, $3 million program designed to help families and children affected by opioids and other substance abuse by addressing addiction, improving permanency and enhancing the safety of children in affected households.

“When addiction hits a person, it impacts their whole family in ways that will be felt for years to come,” said Commissioner Marie Williams, in a press release.  “We’ve seen time and time again that if a person can achieve recovery, they can unlock the door to being the parent they always wanted to be.”

Tennessee is among the hardest-hit states by the opioid epidemic, a crisis now known to have been aided by pharmaceutical companies misrepresenting the addictive nature of opioids during the 1990s and encouraging prescriptions. The over-prescription played a major role in widespread misuse and rural areas were particularly hard-hit. 

In 2017, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services declared the U.S. Opioid Epidemic a public health emergency. 

In Tennessee, there were 2,388 opioid overdose deaths in 2020, more than 4 million painkiller prescriptions in 2021 and 824 babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome in 2020, according to the Tennessee Department Health. 

Because the opioid crisis has primarily affected rural counties, Tennessee and its partners will be focusing on nine counties in Middle Tennessee: Bedford, Coffee, Franklin, Giles, Hickman, Lawrence, Lincoln, Marshall and Maury counties.

Families will be provided intensive, in-home crisis intervention and life skills education to help them fight  addiction and create better home lives for children.

Because the services are coming to them, travel expenses and other barriers preventing families from receiving care should no longer be an issue, said Matthew Parriot, spokesman for the Department of Mental Health. 

“The desired outcome is to avoid out of home placement, at the end of the day, everyone wants the same thing, to keep the family together because that’s what’s best for the kids,” he said. 

The department is also partnering with the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services, Department of Human Services, the Administrative Office of the Courts and Centerstone, a nonprofit organization providing crisis-intervention services.

Grant funding for the program runs through September 2027.

Tennessee’s mental health department runs a similar program called Therapeutic Intervention, Education and Skills (TIES) to assist children up to 18 years old at risk of being placed in foster care due to their caregiver’s substance abuse.  

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Published on October 12, 2022.