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Tennessee lawmakers move to expand treatment for those struggling with addiction

Under the legislation, nurse practitioners and physician assistants would be allowed to prescribe Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) in Tennessee.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — In 2018, the United States Congress passed the "SUPPORT" Act to address the opioid epidemic. 

In part, it allowed nurse practitioners and physician assistants to prescribe medication-assisted treatment for recovery from substance use disorders.

But in Tennessee, only doctors can prescribe MAT — and there is a backlog of patients waiting for help, especially as overdoses have risen over the last few months.

 "We have Tennesseans that are addicted to opiates that literally are begging to get into these clinics," State Senator Dr. Richard Briggs (R-Knox County) on June 11. "They're on a waiting list because the physician that's running the clinics can take no more patients."

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Each provider is restricted in the number of patients they can prescribe with MAT. The Centers for Disease Control describe MAT as "a treatment combining the use of medications (methadone, buprenorphine, or naltrexone) with counseling and behavioral therapies."

A report by the Pew Charitable Trust found MAT is the most effective way of combating an opioid use disorder.  

"There's a backlog of patients that need access to treatment, specifically access to treatment that is affordable," said Libby Thurman, chief external affairs officer for the Tennessee Primary Care Association. "We really are hopeful and believe that this legislation will help more Tennessee and recover from opioid use addiction."

The new legislation, which has been approved by the state house and senate, would allow nurse practitioners and physician assistants to prescribe Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) in Tennessee.

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Last fall, Mollie Owens told 10News MAT's high price tag and lack of accessibility were problems in Grainger County.

"I'm surrounded by people that either are addicts or previous addicts in recovery," she said. "Right now we pay $671 a month."

She's lost loved ones who weren't able to get help.

"Since I was 15, I lived a life without a mother, due to a disease that never got proper treatment," she said, adding that recovery works. "You have a disease and you just need help. If we start treating it that way, I feel like it'd be a lot easier on everybody."

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