Fatal drug overdoses in Davidson County more than doubled in the past four years and now exceed the death rates for homicides and motor vehicle accidents, yet few people with addiction can obtain the treatment they need, Nashville Mayor Megan Barry said Tuesday.
“I don’t think we’ve had the political will to look at this disease for what it is and then to pay for the appropriate treatment,” Barry said during a “Science Day” at Nashville’s Belcourt Theatre hosted by the Vanderbilt Center for Addiction Research (VCAR).
“It’s really time for our politics to start following our science,” she said. “There are many forces that got us here but we need to figure out how to get us out. I think there’s one force that can help make that happen, and that’s science.”
VCAR, which opened earlier this year, coordinates the research activities of faculty members from Vanderbilt University’s School of Medicine and College of Arts and Science who are working to better understand and ultimately improve addiction treatment.
The center’s first annual science day featured presentations of current research, a poster session and a discussion of the role of medications in treating opioid addiction by Stephen Loyd, M.D., of the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.
During her talk the mayor shared the tragic consequences of addiction in her own family. On July 29 her 22-year-old son Max died from a drug overdose.
Barry said her son had completed a monthlong drug treatment program. He’d gone back to college and finished his senior year. Then in July while hanging out with friends he took a risk. He took a combination of four drugs that proved lethal, she said.
“My son was a great kid. He had a big heart,” she said. “He will never know and fulfill the promise he had.
“Why did he have access to that cornucopia of drugs?” Barry asked. “Some of them were prescription. Somebody got a prescription somewhere. I tell people that the first place that you should go to help alleviate the opioid crisis for our kids is your own medicine cabinet.
“Open it up,” she said. “See what you have there. In Metro Nashville you can take those drugs to any police precinct and just drop them off and they’ll get rid of them for you. I highly, highly encourage you to do that.
“There is still a lot we don’t know about addiction,” Barry concluded. “There is still a lot of progress to be made around treatment and how to figure out how to save lives. We have to look to medicine. We have to look to science to take the lead.”