The Opioid Crisis: Too Close to Home

By Dr. H. Lee Martin, President

Trinity Health Foundation of East Tennessee

Last November, Trinity Foundation, in cooperation with Leadership Tennessee, sponsored a community roundtable with Sam Quinones, the author of the book Dreamland. Over 400 hundred concerned citizens and area leaders came together to learn and discuss how Knoxville could address the opioid crisis. Approximately one person daily in the metropolitan Knoxville area dies from complications related to opioid overdose. Unfortunately, this statistic does not begin to shed insight into the thousands more in our community whose lives are directly or indirectly affected by this addiction.

What did we learn? Community interest is widespread; the opinions are diverse; there is no silver bullet, and there is one thread that almost all agrees upon – ACEs are at the root of the problem. What are ACEs? Adverse Childhood Experiences. They range from abuse (physical, mental, verbal), neglect (physical, emotional, witnessing the abuse of a mother), and parental issues (depression/mental illness, addiction, incarceration, parental loss via death or divorce). Having experienced four or more ACEs in childhood increases the likelihood of addiction to alcohol by 700% and suicide by 1200%.

So, if we had a silver bullet, it would be an intact, healthy family – that’s what creates healthy kids that grow into healthy, non-addiction-dependent adults. But, the ounce of prevention that supplants a pound of cure is the loving, supportive family. Many organizations and churches are working to strengthen the family. For example, the Knoxville Marriage Initiative started from Fellowship Church 5 years ago and has expanded to over 20 churches to support solid marriages and strong families. This is just one example of many area efforts aimed at root causes in addition to the many efforts focused on recovery.