TennCare looks for answers why opioid addiction up, prescriptions down

Wendy Long, Director of TennCare (Photo: WKRN)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – A lot of eyes look to the state’s TennCare program for some answers to the opioid epidemic, but there’s a vexing question that the department faces going forward.

Why are cases of opioid addiction going up when there’s reduction in the number of opioids being prescribed?

The issue came up Thursday during the annual budget hearings before Governor Bill Haslam.

(Photo: WKRN)

There was also good news for the Medicaid program covering nearly 1.5 million low income Tennesseans, many of them children.

During the budget hearing, TennCare officials said they had the “sixth lowest per member cost among all the state Medicaid programs.”

Inside those numbers are many of the people facing opioid addiction with the problems that Tennessee hopes to solve.

“The rates at which TennCare members are diagnosed with opioid addiction and the rate TennCare babies are dependent on opiates has actually climbed at the same time that prescriptions have declined,” said TennCare Director Wendy Long before the budget hearings.

(Photo: WKRN)

When the governor asked why, she told him these numbers are just one part of the multi-state agency fight needed against the opioid epidemic.

“Most of the things we have been focused on so far is preventing addiction,” said Dr. Long, “but we have got to figure out what we do with this group of people.”

The director says it means her agency will re-evaluate and modify what its doing for those already addicted.

TennCare says one of its strategies is to define standards for opioid treatment and access for all members.