One of the most deadly problems our community is experiencing right now is the opioid addiction issue.
In just the past few weeks, annual statistics on the issue were released showing what we all have feared: the problem continues to explode with few proven solutions.
However, here is the good news. An innovative resource already exists right here in Nashville. And it has a 21-year track record of success.
In the mid-1990s, then Juvenile Judge Andy Shookoff and magistrate Mary Walker recognized a troubling pattern. Many of the cases under their jurisdiction involved crack-addicted mothers and their children.
The prevailing approach at that time was to send moms to jail and place the kids in foster care. Often, the mothers would “do their time”, be released from jail and continue the cycle, falling back into the throes of addiction.
Similarly, at that time, the kids rarely received necessary behavioral services, experienced multiple placements, missed far too many school days and continued to be impacted by the trauma. Neonatal doctors and nurses at Vanderbilt University Medical Center were also noticing the huge impact of babies born to addicted mothers resulting in longer hospital stays and increasing costs many times over.
Then Mayor Phil Bredesen launched a Commission with representatives from law enforcement, courts, health care providers, community volunteers and nonprofits to study the issue and to develop recommendations and solutions.
Among the group’s observations was that programs that kept families together in recovery allowed families to remain intact and had shown lower recidivism rates.
Incarceration, was both an expensive and ineffective solution. With appropriate resources and attention these moms could become working, taxpaying responsible adults. In a truly bipartisan effort, a Democratic president, Republican governor, Congress and our General Assembly worked together to pass legislation that created a “pilot” program that would keep mothers and their children together.
Through that leadership and with the help of many others in the community — particularly the Junior League of Nashville and National Council of Jewish Women, Nashville — a place called Renewal House was born.
Renewal House is a long-term residential and intensive outpatient treatment community where women suffering from addiction and substance abuse can find hope – and their children can get the help they need. It has been phenomenally effective, peer-reviewed, supported by government and nonprofits alike and has traditionally had a double- digit waiting list for admission.
In 1996, the drug problem was mostly crack, meth and alcohol. At that time, few of us had ever envisioned prescription drugs as an addiction threat.
Enter today’s epidemic: opiates.
Today, 3 out of 4 women who seek treatment from Renewal House have a problem involving opioids. As the problem continues to grow, so does the waiting list at Renewal House.
An effective solution is already here. However, capacity is limited. As Tennessee turns desperately from the discovery phase on the opioid epidemic to the solution phase, the last thing we need to do is “re-invent the wheel.”
It will be more effective, less expensive and take less time to expand and replicate a proven model — Renewal House — that has been effective for over 600 families in Middle Tennessee.
Rep. Brenda Gilmore represents the 54th District in the Tennessee House of Representatives and Deborah Taylor Tate is Co-chair of the National Task Force on Opiates. Both are Renewal House Advisory Board members.