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UT program educates lawmakers about substance abuse disorders and opioid crisis

The SMART Policy Network collects data and gives lawmakers resources about substance use disorders. They hope to create a statewide outreach program.

NASHVILLE, Tenn — One of the greatest challenges facing Tennessee is the opioid epidemic. The Substance Misuse and Addiction Resource for Tennessee (SMART) Policy Network was created in 2020 to help lawmakers prevent overdoses and treat substance use disorders across the state.

The SMART Policy Network gives user-friendly data visualizations about substance abuse prevention, as well as data about treatment and recovery in Tennessee communities. Lawmakers can use that data to craft better legislation and help people struggling with substance use disorders, according to officials with SMART Policy Network.

They collect and present data about locations where people can find resources across the state, where opioids are prescribed the most and locations with the highest drug-related mortality rates.

They also prepare reports about various aspects of the opioid crisis like Naloxone access, youth substance misuse and how broadband access impacts public health.

In 2021, the University of Tennessee spearheaded an effort to educate lawmakers about the opioid crisis and substance use disorders. Officials with the university worked with members of the Tennessee General Assembly and local officials to show them the resources available through the SMART Policy Network.

Now, they are asking lawmakers for funding to move the resource center to the UT Institute for Public Service. There, it will be more readily available for elected officials to use. They also asked for funding to develop a statewide outreach program to teach lawmakers about the data they've collected.

The institute works directly with communities and businesses across the state, consulting with leaders before they make big decisions that affect the people they serve. It has locations across Tennessee.

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