A Knoxville community health center is taking a new approach to opioid treatment with a comprehensive clinic for drug addicts.
In an attempt to tackle the growing opioid epidemic, earlier this year a $325,000 federal grant allowed Cherokee Health Systems in Knoxville to expand its treatment and hire more staff, including its first addiction treatment specialist.
Earlier this month, Dr. Mark McGrail started as Cherokee Health’s new Director of Addiction Medicine Services.
He is currently hiring staff to begin an integrated clinic for patients who suffer complex addictive, psychiatric and physical health problems.
“For example, a patient with a physical health problem like heart disease or diabetes, but who also suffers from depression or anxiety, and then to top it all off, suffers from a substance abuse disorder," McGrail explained.
Doctors at Cherokee Health Systems agree it's more important now than ever for an integrated approach.
"Community health centers were formed to take care of patients that had nowhere else to go," said Dr. Michael Caudle, director of women’s health. "That's what's special about this place and this program.
Caudle said comprehensive healthcare providers are limited, especially for poorer communities who cannot afford private for-profit care.
He said Cherokee is now one of the few community health centers in Knoxville with medical doctors, psychologists and addiction specialists all on staff.
"It's been a troubling situation where people have wanted to get help, and really had no way of getting it,” Caudle said.
It comes as health professionals say Tennessee is battling an epidemic in prescription painkiller abuse. In 2014, the latest year for which the data is available, more than 1,200 Tennesseans died from opioid overdose.
According to an IMS Health report, Tennessee ranks second in the nation for drug prescriptions per capita.
In 2015, state health care professionals wrote more than 7.8 million opioid prescriptions, which amounts to 1.8 prescriptions per every Tennessee resident.
Despite the high statistic, Tennessee received a "making progress" designation in a recent National Safety Council report.
It met five of six criteria. No state met all six.
(© 2016 WBIR)