Working together to combat opioid addiction

Category: Column

by Randy Boyd

If we keep going in the direction we are headed, by the year 2023 more people will die from opioids than all of our wars combined.

Opioids and addiction are decimating families and communities across our state. As addiction springs from multiple causes, the fight against it must also come from different fronts. We must work together in order to stop this terrible disease.

On Aug. 1, we started just that. The University of Tennessee System hosted the first Summit for Opioid Addiction and Response (SOAR). I was blown away by the magnitude and depth of discussions that were had regarding this important issue.

Society has harshly judged those who do suffer from addiction, but addiction is not a moral failure. It is a chronic brain disorder. Dr. Stephen Loyd, medical director at the JourneyPure recovery center, knows society’s judgment as he was addicted to opioids while a practicing doctor. He has been sober for 15 years.

He also knows addiction sometimes can’t be beat simply by willpower. That’s why medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is often the best option, Loyd said. Robert Pack, East Tennessee State University professor of community and behavioral health and associate dean for academic affairs, said that MAT has shown effective in treatment retention and has had a positive impact on mortality and illicit drug use.

We learned from the personal stories shared such as from Knoxville small business owner Jama Williams, whose two children struggled with addiction – including a son who became addicted to strong painkillers after a doctor prescribed them when he broke his back in an ATV accident. In despair of beating his addiction after multiple rehabilitation stints, her son committed suicide.

Addiction affects people’s mental health – and sometimes stems from there. Judge Duane Slone, circuit court judge in the 4th judicial district, encouraged us to stop chasing the drug and start chasing what actually drives addiction and suicide, like adverse childhood experiences and trauma. We must provide mental health services even as we address this issue in other ways.

Opioid addiction has cost us in human lives. It’s also cost us economically as a state. UT Knoxville Professor Matt Harris shared that a 10 percent decrease in prescription opioid use would lead to an additional $825 million in personal income in Tennessee. Not only is this epidemic devastating lives and families, but it is also destructive to our economy.

Because the opioid epidemic touches many aspects of our society, it is important that the work being done to combat this crisis doesn’t occur in silos. We have started the conversations and the partnerships to begin the journey to impact lives and heal our state.

Thank you to all the speakers and attendees who shared how the opioid epidemic has affected them and what we can do together to combat it. I know this is just the beginning of a journey that will impact countless lives.

To learn more about the UT System’s efforts to combat opioid addiction, please visit

Randy Boyd

Tags: , ,