RUTHERFORD COUNTY, Tenn. (WKRN) — Drug overdoses continue to claim lives in Middle Tennessee as the battle of opioids is far from over. Rutherford County recently secured $500,000 as part of a $26 billion national opioid settlement, which local officials plan to use to combat the problem.
Each week, Volunteer Behavioral Health in Murfreesboro sees several new patients struggling with opioid addiction.
“I don’t know of anyone that just wakes up one day and says, ‘Oh I want to be addicted to a drug,’ but I think it’s just, like, over time, they may have started taking the medication because it was prescribed to them, and then that addiction component, that addiction agent is in it and so then it turns into much more than they bargained for,” said Beth Tucker, clinical director of Volunteer Behavioral Health.
After filing a lawsuit against big pharmaceutical companies in 2018, and later teaming up with the state, Rutherford County is looking to distribute their settlement funds with nonprofit organizations. In addition to the $500,000, the county also has $1.5 million to distribute to organizations that can help, according to officials.
“I’m so tired of giving this epidemic new victims. We have got to protect our biggest commodity, which is our children,” Rutherford County Commissioner Craig Harris said.
According to Harris, in 2021, the county saw 141 overdose deaths in 2021, followed by 121 deaths in 2022.
“I’m worried about deaths. Our average age is 40…and it’s mostly white males. And people are like, ‘Well 40?'” Harris said. “Well, you know, they have been battling this for a long time.”
Rutherford County is now looking for community organizations to partner with who can offer things like drug education, rehabilitation, and other substance abuse related services.
“We have the opportunity to help so many community relations and our departments, and we have this money, but we need to get the message out so people can come to us and see if we can help them,” Harris explained.
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Through a separate grant, Volunteer Behavioral Health is working to help the problem, too. Officials plan to add 10 detox beds to the Murfreesboro facility, on top of other intensive recovery resources.
“I’m so glad that Rutherford County was awarded $500,000 and I think that shows that even the government sees that this is a need in Rutherford County,” Tucker said. “But also it’s saddening because that means there is a need here.”
To apply for a grant, nonprofits can visit Rutherford County’s website or contact the county mayor’s office.