Substance Abuse and its Impact on Public Transportation in Middle Tennessee

Adults living in rural areas are more likely to use tobacco and methamphetamine, while prescription drug abuse and heroin use have become more prevalent in cities of all sizes. In the event that a staff member of the Tennessee State Authority (STA) is arrested, charged, convicted, or issued a subpoena instead of arrest for a criminal offense, whether a misdemeanor or a felony, they must report this information to their direct supervisor within twenty-four (24) hours. A standard 10-passenger van can only accommodate up to four (4) passengers at a time. The End of Year Report on Mental Health Transportation must be submitted annually before July 31. Tennessee is a transit area for drugs, particularly cocaine, marijuana, and methamphetamine, which are bound for other states.

The main interstate highways (I-24, I-40, I-55, I-65, I-75, and I-81) that run through rural areas and mountainous terrain facilitate drug transportation. For instance, I-24 connects Chattanooga to I-57 in southern Illinois; I-40 extends from North Carolina through Knoxville, Nashville, and Memphis to California; I-55 runs from Louisiana through Memphis to Illinois; I-65 goes from Alabama through Nashville to Indiana; I-75 stretches from Florida through Chattanooga and Knoxville to Michigan; and I-81 links I-40 east of Knoxville to New York. Substance use is any ingestion of substances that alter mood or behavior, such as alcohol, nicotine, and illegal drugs. Substance use disorders can lead to an increase in illegal activities and have consequences for physical and social health, such as poor academic performance, worse health status, changes in brain structure, and an increased risk of death from overdose and suicide. Long-term use of these substances can cause substance use disorder (SUD), which can affect not only the individual but also their family and community. Rural religious organizations can also play an important role in promoting substance use prevention.

While family doctors, psychologists, social workers, and pastors may be available in rural areas to provide basic substance abuse services or social support, the centers available in rural areas that provide comprehensive substance use treatment services are limited. Substance use can be especially difficult to combat in rural communities because of limited resources for prevention, treatment and recovery. According to the 1999 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, 5.2 percent of those surveyed in Tennessee reported abusing an illicit drug at least once in the 30 days prior to the survey compared to 6.3 percent nationwide. Mexican criminal groups and street gangs based in Tennessee are the main transporters and wholesale distributors of drugs available in Tennessee, particularly cocaine and marijuana. In addition, 9.5 percent of high school students surveyed in Tennessee reported using cocaine at least once in their lives; 10.2 percent of high school students surveyed in Tennessee reported abusing methamphetamine more than the 9.1 percent reported by high school students across the country. Prevention programs can help reduce substance use in rural communities especially when they focus on adolescents.

For example, the Strong African American Families-Teen (SAAF—T) program implemented in rural Georgia was successful and cost-effective in its mission to keep rural youth involved in school and away from illicit substances. When you consider the cost of lost productivity and the non-governmental expenditure of private social services the estimates of the total costs related to substance abuse were even higher. Rural primary care providers can play a key role in addressing substance use by evaluating patients suffering from SUDs encouraging them to seek treatment and referring them to appropriate treatment services. For a step-by-step guide on how to implement a substance use treatment program in rural areas see the toolkit for the prevention and treatment of substance use disorders in rural areas. Sheriff's offices are encouraged to contact the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services and the Office of Crisis and Suicide Prevention for help. Substance abuse has far reaching consequences that extend beyond individuals who suffer from SUDs.

It affects public transportation systems as well as communities at large. In Middle Tennessee specifically it has been observed that substance abuse has had a negative impact on public transportation systems due to increased costs associated with providing services as well as decreased safety for passengers due to impaired drivers or passengers. The STA has implemented several measures to address this issue including increased security measures such as background checks for all staff members as well as increased training for drivers on how to handle situations involving impaired passengers or drivers. In addition STA has also implemented several prevention programs aimed at reducing substance abuse among its staff members as well as passengers including educational programs on the dangers of substance abuse as well as providing access to counseling services for those who may be struggling with addiction. The STA is also working with local law enforcement agencies to ensure that those who are caught driving under the influence or engaging in other illegal activities related to substance abuse are held accountable for their actions. By taking these steps STA is hoping to reduce the impact that substance abuse has on public transportation systems in Middle Tennessee while also providing a safe environment for its passengers.

Herbert Denbow
Herbert Denbow

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