Knoxville Police Chief David Rausch vowed Wednesday to keep fighting for funding to counter the nation's opiate scourge, hours after lawmakers rejected a proposed $1.1 billion for treatment programs.
Too many people in U.S. cities including Knoxville are now abusing opiates such as heroin and oxycontin, he said. More than jails are needed to address the problem.
"We know what happens if they don't get treatment. They die," Rausch said. "I mean, it's that simple. If they're not getting treated, they die, and so we need the monies to be able to help them."
Rausch earlier Wednesday attended a meeting along with other law enforcement leaders at the White House to discuss the opioid drug epidemic across the country and in East Tennessee.
President Barack Obama had requested $1.1 billion over the span of two years to expand access to treatment for prescription drug abuse and heroin use. Under the president's proposal, Tennessee would have been eligible for up to $24 million.
U.S. lawmakers, however, rejected the proposal Wednesday.
Under a rule from the Department of Health and Human Services, physicians who are authorized to prescribe buprenorphine can go from having a maximum of 100 patients on the drug to 275. Buprenorphine is used as a treatment for opioid addiction, and is also known as suboxone.
HHS estimates between 10,000 and 90,000 new patients will be able to get buprenorphine in the first year as a result. The rule takes effect on Aug. 5. The current 100-patient limit is seen as a barrier to opioid treatment, according to a release from the White House.
Rausch noted Tennessee ranks third in the nation for opioid addiction. At least 1,263 people died in Tennessee from opioid overdose in 2014, according data collected by The Tennessean. Knox County had 133 overdose deaths in 2014, which was the second-most of any county in Tennessee only trailing Shelby County's 148 overdose deaths.
U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy visited Knoxville in June to discuss efforts to fight opioid addiction. Karen Pershing, the Metro Drug Coalition’s executive director, said a surgeon general had not visited Knoxville since 1992.
Murthy has tweeted about the benefits of using Naloxone, a medication used to prevent opioid overdose.
KPD told 10News in June that 26 people have been saved since officers began carrying Naloxone in September 2015.