Doctor lays out $1M plan to prevent, aid opioid abuse

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Shelby County Commissioners heard the first steps of a possible plan to combat the opioid epidemic sweeping the county and the state Wednesday. But the first move of the fight has a steep price tag.

"I thought this was a good way to start and really look at what's possible for us to do," said Heidi Shafer, Commission chairwoman.

The Shelby County Commission's opioid task force welcomed in Dr. David Stern Wednesday morning. Stern serves as Vice-Chancellor for Statewide Initiatives at UT's Health Science Center.

The cause for him is deeply personal. His son Alan died 9 years ago after a battle with substance and mental health issues.

"It's something that I remember every day to this very moment," said Stern. "I'd like to see us build support around the patient with substance abuse disorder, that helps the patient get a grip on his or her life."

Stern's plan would include better training for doctors and nurses in the Mid-South, centered from the Center for Addiction Science at UT Memphis. The health department would play a role in risk prevention and data tracking, and Stern believes there must be a referral program for employers who suspect someone might be struggling at substances.

The total cost would be $1.23 million in year one, but Stern believes healthcare systems should eventually chip in on the price tag.

"We have to put this together and show that we can decrease hospitalizations, that we can decrease ER visits," said Stern.

"It's a good step in addressing something that's very acute as part of a problem and very challenging as part of a solution," said Mark Luttrell, county mayor.

Amid the discussion, Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell and commissioners are still sparring over a lawsuit to recoup costs from the opioid epidemic. The much-publicized suit has moved from chancery to circuit court, where a new judge will take up the issue after the new year.

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