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Tennessee DA says more prosecutors needed to fight opioid crisis

Maura Sirianni - NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) - The opioid epidemic is a problem nationwide and Tennessee is no exception.

So with the recent announcement of Governor Bill Haslam's new plan of attack, News 2 sat down with an East Tennessee prosecutor who handles cases in some the state's hardest hit counties-- to talk about what needs to change.

Jamestown, Tennessee is a small town located in the heart of Fentress County--an area in which opioid abuse seems to have a death grip.

"In my office alone last year, each assistant D.A. averaged handling more than 1,800 cases," said District Attorney General Jared Effler.

Effler represents Tennessee's eighth judicial district. He prosecutes a lot of drug cases and says Governor Haslam's $30-million dollar plan to combat the state's opioid epidemic is a good place to start.

"This will not be an easy fight or one that will be won overnight, but it is one that we must attack head on," said Governor Haslam.

The plan focuses on prevention, treatment and law enforcement. But Effler says there's one major flaw in the proposal.

"Without strong prosecutions, prevention and education is not going to be effective. There has to be accountability in our system. To see that no additional prosecutorial resources were provided in this plan was somewhat disappointing," said Effler

Effler says Tennessee needs to start giving opioid-related cases the attention they deserve.

"We simply do not have the resources to adequately deal with the problem.  Our prisons are overcrowded, we're lacking in rehabilitation services for offenders who need rehab.  And we need more prosecutors to efficiently evaluate these cases."

Prosecutors say conservatively 85 to 90 percent of all criminal offenses are somehow connected to opioids, mainly powerful painkillers.

"We've seen families torn apart, we've seen parents anguish over having to put their child in jail because they believe that is the safest place for them to literally save their lives," added Effler

Effler hopes Governor Haslam will work with the legislature to make these changes before a final plan is rolled out.

Click here to read more about Tennessee's Opioid Crisis.

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