LOUDON, Tenn. — The million dollar question when it comes to the opioid epidemic is how to end it.
More than 300 doctors and community leaders gathered in Lenoir City Thursday in an attempt to find a solution to stop people from dying from drug overdoses.
The gathering was the largest ever focused on the opioid epidemic in East Tennessee.
"There’s clearly a lot more that needs to be done. The whole community needs to come together to come up with solutions," said Eric Penniman, the Executive Medical Director Summit Medical Group. "We are really right at the worst in the country as far as the rates of opioid deaths for the per capita here in East Tennessee."
In a room of more than 300 doctors, politicians, law enforcement officers, and addiction specialists, everyone has a different opinion on how to solve one of East Tennessee’s most pressing problems. What they all agree on is that the opioid epidemic is claiming too many lives.
Here are three possible solutions the doctors focused on today to curb the number of deaths.
With many people becoming addicted to opioids after being prescribed pills after an injury, the first possible solution is prescribing smaller doses.
"One in five people who start an opioid and take it for 10 days are likely to have long term use. We realize that much of the epidemic starts with good intentions and prescriptions for opioids," said Jim Lancaster, Market Medical Executive for Cigna. "We announced we were trying to decrease our opioid use in our customers by 25% and we reached that goal last year. Now we are working on decreasing opioid overdose deaths which have continued to climb nationally."
When it comes to treatment of pain, doctors said there are more options than most people realize.
Options like virtual reality treatment, sound therapy and meditation were possible solutions brought up Thursday.
"Being able to open your mind to other ways of thinking and other ways of doing things is extremely important," said Karen Pershing with the Metro Drug Coalition. "There’s a whole lot of different options available to physicians now, but a lot of times they’re not educated or don’t have the understanding of how to use those different modalities."
The goal for doctors is to not always prescribe opioids if they are not necessary.
"There are other approaches, physical therapy, occupational therapy, psychological therapy, that are very important as well," said Dr. James Choo with Pain Consultants of East Tennessee. "Part of the efforts is to treat pain in the best ways possible. There are multiple alternatives. We know that pain is not just solved by a certain type of pill."
Finally, they focused on education. If fewer drugs are prescribed by doctors, the goal is that less will become addicted.
"We’re working on trying to help physicians and other healthcare professionals understand the nature of the epidemic, the right advances in treatment to try and avoid new cases, and also to decrease overdose deaths," said Lancaster.
If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, 10News has a list of resources. You can find them here.