By Kendal Groner
After presenting her plan to tackle the opioid crisis to researchers and health care professionals at East Tennessee State University, gubernatorial candidate Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn, made her way to Unicoi County where she toured Erwin Town Hall and the Unicoi County Board of Education building on Monday, Feb. 19.
Black has been serving as the U.S. Representative for Tennessee’s 6th congressional district since 2010. Before entering politics, Black worked as a registered nurse and as a college educator.
Some of the key issues she is addressing in her 2018 campaign are the opioid crisis, increasing educational opportunities for Tennesseans, and addressing infrastructure needs of rural areas.
Black said her plan to address the opioid crisis includes prosecuting pill mills, going after drug abusers, rehabbing drugs addicts in prison, increasing oversight and law enforcement capabilities, regulating prescriptions, and supporting measures to protect patients.
“The opioid issue right now, I think has three different main pieces,” Black said. “If we can prevent people from becoming unintentionally dependent on opioids, and that’s with education, both at the youth level and with adults as well.”
The next piece of her plan includes going after over-prescribers, particularly pill mills. She is also in favor of integrating access to the Controlled Substance Monitoring Database without adding administrative hassles to healthcare providers.
“You need to make sure those who are dispensing these pills are doing so in a responsible manner,” she said. “The pill mills where people are getting their pills for cash, there’s not a good way to monitor them
“There certainly is a place for pain management … but those that are abusing those privileges, for example by cash only, we need to be suspicious of that.”
Providing law enforcement personnel with more tools to find cases of over prescribing while also imposing stricter penalties to opioid dealers and users is another integral component of her plan.
Along with hiring additional TBI agents to search for over prescribers, Black wants to increase the penalty for the sale of more than half a gram of fentanyl – a highly addictive and potent opioid – from a class C felony to a class B felony, and increase the sale of more than 150 grams of the substance to a class A felony.
She would also like to broaden the scope of the second degree murder statute to include the killing of a person that results from the unlawful distribution or dispension of any scheduled substance on the Tennessee Drug Control Act of 1989.
“Our law enforcement needs to have access to the tools to hold the dealers accountable, and then finally after that there is the recovery aspect,” Black told The Erwin Record.
Black said she believes there is usefulness in both medication assisted treatment to treat opioid addiction as well as 12 step programs.
“It’s not one size fits all,” she explained. “What’s good for one person might not necessarily be the best treatment for another.”
Along with addressing the opioid crisis, Black said she wants to increase educational opportunities in Tennessee to include more career and technical education programs. In order to find what programs will be most beneficial, she has been holding discussions with educational leaders to see what programs students need most.
“I think we’ve lost our way in thinking that everyone needs to go to college,” Black said. “Some people really are better working with their hands.”
A good starting place, according to Black, is to speak with Tennessee businesses and determine what skillsets they are looking for in employees in order to better prepare students for recruitment opportunities.
Implementing a tuition freeze to prevent the common cost increases at Tennessee Universities,will allow the HOPE scholarship to retain its value to ensure a college education is financially attainable for poor and middle-class Tennesseans, according to Black.
Black also said she wants to focus on the importance of “homegrown Tennessee businesses,” and wants to make it easier for those businesses to expand into rural communities. She is also prioritizing the infrastructure needs of rural areas such as Unicoi County, and said that includes better access to broadband as well as expediting projects to improve the road and water/sewer systems.
“Even the farmers need access to broadband,” she said. “Their newest equipment operates off of broadband.”
Black said that her overall impression of Unicoi County was that it was a welcoming community full of people who love the county they live in.