U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy spoke at a Knoxville town hall on Tuesday night, in an effort to fight the opioid addiction epidemic.
Opioid overdose kills more people than car crashes in Tennessee.
In front of 100 people, America’s top doctor laid out his plan to combat health issues facing our country. Alongside smoking and diabetes, Murthy said opioid abuse is a top concern. It's an issue that hits home for many in East Tennessee.
"As a person with lived experience recovering from substance abuse, I got to meet with other individuals who are on the path to recovery and help them along that road,” Katie Rosas said.
For Rosas, there are a number of factors that lead to our regions drug abuse problem.
"There’s cultural issues, systemic issues within family systems, and we also know we're within the I-40 corridor," Rosas said. "Just the fact that we have a lot of states and roads intersecting here brings a lot of that commerce through the area.”
Earlier in the day, Murthy toured Behavioral Health Group, a facility in Knoxville that offers methadone and suboxone-based treatment options. Murthy believes people need to take action to help the millions who he says aren't getting treatment.
"We know that in Tennessee and around the country, there are far more people who need help than are getting it,” Murthy said.
This summer Murthy plans to reach out to the nation's medical professionals to help guide them when prescribing opioid medications.
"I’ll also be sending along with that letter a pocket card that clinicians can use to help guide them to treating pain with opioids,” Murthy said.
For Rosas, this is a step in the right direction to fixing a problem plaguing the U.S.
“This is a very real disease, an illness. But the beautiful thing about it, while it's progressive and chronic and fatal, it's perfectly treatable,” Rosas said.
In addition to discussing opioid addiction, Murthy talked about the government’s plan to address the Zika virus.
As surgeon general, Murthy is responsible for communicating the best ways to improve personal and public health.
On Wednesday, Murthy spoke with physicians at the University of Tennessee Medical Center staff at the Behavioral Health Group.
Murthy frequently uses #TurnTheTide on Twitter to educate the public about ways to combat opiate-caused overdoses using drugs such as heroin and prescription medication.
"So he wants to hear from the state as well as the community on things that we've done to address the problem," said Karen Pershing, who serves as executive director of the Metro Drug Coalition.
Pershing said a surgeon general has not visited Knoxville since 1992. She said they hope this event will shine new light on their fight.
Death by overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in Tennessee. In 2014, 133 people died in Knox County alone.
"Whenever you have a federal leader here, it's going to bring a lot of attention to the problem," Pershing said.
Last week, Murthy tweeted about the benefits of using Naloxone, a medication used to prevent opioid overdose.
The Knoxville Police Department told WBIR Tuesday that 26 people have been saved since officers began carrying Naloxone in September 2015.
The U.S. Senate confirmed Murthy as the 19th U.S. Surgeon General with a 51-43 vote on Dec. 15, 2014.
Murthy attended college at Harvard University and graduated with a bachelor's degree in biochemical sciences. He then earned a master’s degree from Yale School of Medicine, and an MBA in health care management from Yale School of Management.