COOKEVILLE – The statistics say it all. At least three people die from an opioid-related overdose each day in Tennessee, putting the state in the top 15 states nationwide in drug overdose deaths.
Each year, more opioid prescriptions are written than there are people living in Tennessee, with more than one million prescriptions left over.
Uniting resources to educate and empower is one way to fight the crisis. With the help of numerous agencies, Tennessee Tech’s iCube has created a program to do just that.
“We want to be proactive by being interactive,” said Alexis MacAllister, public relations coordinator with iCube, which is part of Tech’s College of Business.
The website enables and empowers communities by informing individuals about the crisis, empowering those individuals to educate the community and pledging to give time and resources.
The interactive part comes with the activities available on the site. There are eight different categories, from community, family, policy, school, organizations, recovery, first responders and healthcare.
“There is so much information out there, but there’s not any one place it’s all put together,” MacAllister said. “TN Together does just that.”
The idea came about two years ago when the project began under a different name: TN Victory.
“We traveled (the state) and spoke with different coalitions and coordinated with the health departments all over the state,” MacAllister said.
It wasn’t an easy beginning.
“We tried a lot of other things before we settled on this,” said Amanda Powell, iCube producer. “We literally threw spaghetti at the wall to see what stuck.”
TN Together is a similar concept to another iCube creation – MakerMinded.com.
“We learned a lot from that,” Powell said.
The program got momentum in early summer when the governor’s task force and the department of health heard about the project and got on board.
Earlier this year, the program’s name was changed to TN Together.
“The program encourages citizens across the state to pledge, complete activities and share their success,” MacAllister said. “There are more than 100 activities on the site right now and we’d love to hear of more.”
The community activities page has places where people can find out how to place a billboard, host an event during national prevention week, and recognize the side effects of mixing pain medication and alcohol, or information on how to join a drug coalition.
The family activities page has resources on learning the signs of substance abuse, where to receive naloxone training, helping an addicted pregnant family member and how to get rid of old prescriptions.
The school category has resources for K-12 education and higher education, while the organizations page has resources on how to become a drug free workplace, ways to support the drug coalition in the community and others. The recovery category has resources on how to help someone access recovery resources, how to start a residential treatment center, develop a medication-assisted treatment program while the first responders category has information on how to provide school resource officers, police officers and nurses with naloxone, how to host a training day and providing an excess pill drop-off program.
Naloxone, or Narcan, is a medication designed to rapidly reverse opioid overdose. Cookeville Police and Sheriff’s deputies have been trained on the use of Narcan, which has already been used to save lives.
The healthcare activities page looks at drug diversion, using the Controlled Substance Monitoring Database, resources on prescription laws and policies, and learning how opioid abuse training in medical schools is improving.
Anyone can pledge to do any of these activities and once completed can post their success story.
“Sharing success stories can encourage others to do the same,” Kevin Liska, iCube director, said. “Then activities can snowball across the state.”
One such event is the annual Drug Take Back Day, which was held Saturday, Oct. 27.
“Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration is totally committed to ending the opioid crisis in Tennessee, creating the Tennessee Together to address solutions,” said Deputy Governor Jim Henry. “We are pleased that the program, www.tntogether.com, designed and operated by Tennessee Tech University’s iCube allows individuals, families, schools, businesses and agencies to immediately ‘do something’ to address those challenges and to tell their stories to encourage others to get involved.”
TNTogether.com will also be the home of “TN Faces of the Opioid Crisis,” a statewide campaign that will educate Tennesseans on the danger of drug abuse and misuses through the personal stories of people from all 95 counties who have been impacted by the epidemic.
“It’s about helping empower people,” Laura Hull, special projects coordinator with TN Together, said.
For more information, visit tntogether.com.