One Cost Tennessee Agencies Are Figuring Into Their Budgets — The Toll Of Opioids | Nashville Public Radio

One Cost Tennessee Agencies Are Figuring Into Their Budgets — The Toll Of Opioids

Nov 9, 2017

Twenty-five more drug agents.

That's what the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is hoping to add in the coming year to aid in efforts to combat the illegal trade in painkillers —  just one of the ways that the opioid epidemic is reshaping state agencies' spending priorities.

Fighting and dealing with the ramifications of widespread prescription and illegal drugs have been recurring themes as Gov. Bill Haslam's administration has laid out its budget plans during hearings this week at the state Capitol. In ways large and small, department heads say they are shifting resources into drug programs. 

The TBI's request for additional agents is just one example. In a state as wide as Tennessee, those two dozen or so agents may not seem like many, TBI director Mark Gwyn concedes. But in the context of the bureau's current resources, he says, those agents would go a long way.

The TBI currently has about 125 agents, excluding forensics. Of those, 46 are currently assigned to drug investigations.

"I can spread them throughout the state and let them come together as a unit and go into these areas," Gwyn says, "I really believe we can make a difference."

Gwyn blames opioids for a statewide uptick in crime, and not just in big cities. He claims that drug cartels are partnering with local gangs in rural communities, where there are fewer police.

Gwyn proposes creating a strike force that can partner with the Tennessee Highway Patrol and local departments to bring down crime in those places.

And the TBI is far from the only department that's being affected by opioids.

Others include the Department of Children's Services. It wants 30 more case managers to handle a surge in its workload. About 8,600 children are now in the department's care, up from 8,100, a rise that DCS leaders attribute to opioid addiction.

Meanwhile, the University of Tennessee is asking for $3 million for its Center for Addiction Science in Memphis. The statewide network works with the Washington, D.C.-based Addiction Medicine Foundation to develop treatment programs.

"We have a head start nationally in this effort," UT President Joe DiPietro told state budgeters. "Obviously, it (opioid addiction) is a big problem in Tennessee. We're uniquely situated to spearhead a major initiative for treatment of addiction in Tennessee — programs designed to address addiction in every portion of the state."

More examples are likely to emerge as budget hearings continue through Thursday.