Hot Chicken and Opioids: The War on Drugs in Tennessee

Nashville is home to many things that are uniquely its own. These things include trademarks like the Fisk Jubilee Singers, the Grand Ole Opry, Cheekwood, and Belle Meade—but less commonly identified as a
Nashville trademark is Nashville hot chicken as Carmen Campell explains…

It is a rare thing to hear talk of hot chicken thrown around anywhere outside the walls of Hattie B’s. 
This is partly due to the fact that this is Hattie B’s signature dish. But it is primarily due to the fact that anyone who tries Hattie B’s hot chicken will not have the tongue to tell about it afterwards, because this chicken is extremely hot. According to a 2002 Food & Wine magazine poll, seventy-five percent of Americans enjoy some spice to their food, but twenty-two percent “crave fire” (harvardcommonpress.com).

Similar to the amount of Americans who would probably crave hot chicken is the 23% of Tennesseans who in 2009 “identified prescription opioids as their primary substance of abuse” (tn.gov). This percentage had increased 18%
since 1999. Tennessee, along with the rest of the country, now needs to extinguish the epidemic blazing its population: increased drug use and
the increased supererogative incarceration of drug users.

Since 1971, when President Nixon declared ‘war on drugs’, the US has effectively made the transition from combating drugs to combating drug users. According to a 2008 publication from the Justice Policy Institute, “With an estimated 6.8 million Americans struggling with drug abuse or dependence, the growth of the prison population continues to be driven largely by incarceration for drug offenses.” Since 1970, the US prison population has multiplied eight-fold (justicepolicy.org).

Today, one in one hundred eight adults in America is incarcerated, giving America the highest incarceration rate in the world (drugpolicy.org). In ad-
dition, roughly 1 in 4 prisoners are convicted for drug-related offenses.
Although the efficacy of mass incarceration in response to drug abuse is debatable, there are some other measures being taken whose potency cannot
be denied. The mecca of these measures, where both legislation and nonprofit community action convene, is none other than Tennessee. Tennessee is one of the nation’s top ten states for the highest rate of overdose deaths (tricities.com).

In fact, drug overdose is now the leading cause of death in Tennessee, exceeding even motor vehicle wrecks (whitehouse.gov). According to a White House publication regarding Tennessean drug trends, “Tennessee drug-induced deaths (16.8 per 100,000 population) exceeded the national rate (12.7 per
100,000). In the most recent Survey, 8.22 percent of Tennessee residents reported using illicit drugs in the past month. The national average was 8.02
percent” (whitehouse.gov). The most common cause of overdose that is killing Tennesseans is prescription drug abuse. In 2010, enough drugs were prescribed in Tennessee for every person above the age of 12 to have 51 pills of hydrocodone, 21 pills of oxycodone, and 22 pills of alprazolam. These are
three of the most commonly-abused prescription drugs in Tennessee (tn.gov).
Recently in Tennessee, legislation to address the issue of tracking drug use and ensuring proper disposal has been passed. However, no legislation has been passed to address the lack of education about abusing prescription drugs.
Although neglecting to address education, the legislation focusing on usage tracking and ensuring disposal has been promising. It includes PD-MPs, or Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs.

PDMPs are websites servicing healthcare providers, where a medical history is recorded of the prescription medications a patient has taken for the past year. The creation of this database has spun off several new precautions. Under the Prescription Safety Act signed by Governor Haslam in May 2012, medical professionals must check a patient’s history for benzodiazepine and opiate
before prescribing pain medication (state.tn.us). Under the Tennessee Public Safety Action Plan (2012), medical professionals must immediately record a patient’s prescribed prescription, law enforcement has better access to the PDMP, and penalties for doctor shopping were strengthened for both the over-prescribing doctor and the drug abuser. This legislation also provided for more organizations to be created like 21st Drug Court (murfreesboropost.com). “21st Drug Court is a two year alternative sentencing program where non-violent felony offenders get treatment for drug and alcohol addiction while still being ac-
countable to the court system,” says coordinator Marianne Schroer. She continues, “Treatment is a two pronged approach. The first prong is two
A&D (or alcohol and drug) treatment groups a week, and the next is individual counseling as needed. Then there’s probation, which means they’re regularly drug screened, and required to visit recovery meetings three times a week. They have to have a job. They can’t take any drugs without telling the drug court. Even if they take a Tylenol, they have to tell us.” 21st Drug Court
has positively impacted its community. For those enrolled in the program, there is an 80% program graduation rate. Without the drug court, a person goes directly to jail and has an 85% recidivism rate.

In addition to prescription drugs, methamphetamine has also been identified as a major issue for Tennesseans. Like prescription drugs, meth use has also been dangerously on the rise. According to “Indicators of Methamphetamine Abuse in Tennessee,” issued by the Tennessee Department of Mental Health, “Trends in key indicators: 2008 to 2010 the seizure of meth labs increased 155%.

Suspect purchase amounts increased almost 50%. Total purchase amounts increased 24%.

The reasons for this increase have included: population growth, and the fact that more people are making and selling meth. But according to the Tennessee Meth and Pharmaceutical Task Force, “the primary reason for the increase in meth lab seizures is that criminals have adapted to the measures that were placed in effect by the legislation passed in 2005.” To address the increased intelli-
gence of the criminals, in 2005 law enforcement has begun use of the Tennessee Meth Intelligence System (TMIS) (rid-meth.org). TMIS allows fur-
ther analysis to develop intelligence and leads, which can assist law enforcement officers in identifying and arresting potential methamphetamine offenders.

TMIS use increased 492% from 2007 to 2010 (rid-meth.org). Legislation has also been passed to curb meth use in Tennessee. In June 2011, Governor Haslam signed the “I Hate Meth” Bill. This bill most notably provided for tracking of the sale of pseudoephedrine (a key meth ingredient), made records of pseudoephedrine sale immediately available to law enforcement, and increased the penalty of making meth in the presence of a child (murfreesboropost.com). Legislation against making meth in the presence of a child is especially important. “Another organization I’m with, CASA: Court Appointed Special Advocates, advocates for kids who are in the juvenile court system. 80-90% of those kids’ parents have drug and alcohol issues,” says Marianne Schroer. According to the 2012 Tennessee Public Safety Action Plan, “In 2010, 473 children were removed from homes due to meth-related problems.” The “I Hate Meth” Bill, coupled with provisions in the Tennessee Public Safety Action Plan, is a step in the direction of healing Tennessee’s drug abuse epidemic. With state legislation recently passed that is treatment-oriented, Tennessee, along with the rest of the nation, is returning to its “war on drugs” as opposed to its war on drug users. Instead of incarcerating the masses, efforts should be focused on treatment. Thanks to statutes like Haslam’s Public Safety Action Plan, a focus on treatment seems to be the direction in which Tennessee is headed. This is the most effective strategy to cooling down the state’s drug overdose issue. And once Tennessee has tackled this epidemic, it can move on to other pressing
issues—such as enjoying its hot chicken flavor. If you struggle with opiate addiction, and wish to break the cycle, call or text us today.

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