JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – When it comes to treating the national opioid crisis, Dr. Manny Sethi, a U.S. Senate hopeful, said he wants to see the epidemic in the hands of faith-based treatment centers.
Dr. Sethi, an orthopedic surgeon from Nashville, announced his candidacy for U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander’s Senate seat this summer. He stopped by Families Free Clinic in Johnson City Wednesday afternoon for a tour of the facility.
He said he believes the success of alleviating the opioid epidemic is in the hands of facilities like Families Free.
“I personally very strongly believe in faith-based recovery, because I’ve seen it work in patients,” he said.
Sethi and his wife founded Healthy Tennessee almost a decade ago. The nonprofit hosts free health screenings across the state.
He said he started to zone in on the opioid crisis about two years ago as he was traveling across the state.
“I think that the federal government needs to empower these folks, they need to empower local mayors here, local sheriffs, the people who know what’s going on in these communities.
“We don’t need to be empowering the state, we need to empower places directly in Johnson City.”
Throughout his campaign, Sethi has labeled himself an “outsider” candidate as opposed to an “establishment-picked” Republican.
He said he backed President Donald Trump early in Trump’s presidential campaign and still does despite the president’s endorsement of Sethi’s opponent, Bill Hagerty, in July.
Sethi maintains that he believes Tennesseans will decide for themselves when they head to the polls to choose their next Senator.
“People need a voice and we need change, in Tennessee, everywhere I’ve gone, people are sick and tired of the same old same old,” Sethi said, adding, “My opponent (Hagerty) is a good man, but with him, it’s going to be more of the same.”
Paying for the opioid crisis
Sethi acknowledged the damage wreaked on the region due to prescription drug abuse.
He said he supports heavy regulation for medical-assisted treatment programs such as suboxone clinics. He said he doesn’t see them as “sustainable pathways” to treat addiction, and said he wants to see more data on the success of MAT and faith-based programs.
He said he believes the blame is widely-shared when it comes to the opioid epidemic.
“I think we’re in the depths of an epidemic that we are only now beginning to understand, and I think everybody is responsible,” he said. “I think physicians are responsible, drug companies are responsible, the federal government is responsible.”
He tagged Vivitrol, or Naltrexone, as a potential treatment for addiction. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Naltrexone can be used to treat addiction and is taken either as a pill or given as a monthly injection.
The drug blocks opioid receptors in the brain, according to SAMHSA, as opposed to activating them as buprenorphine and methadone do.
The problem, Sethi said, is Naltrexone is expensive.
“I think the drug companies that caused these problems should pay,” he said.
“A lot of these companies, we’re going to take them apart and sell them for parts and their leaders, we’re going to put them in jail because this problem is on the level of the HIV crisis.”
Sethi, who says on his website that he is the son of Indian immigrants, said he believes in strengthening control of the southern border. He added that he believes illegal immigration plays a role in the national opioid epidemic.
“Until we really develop a secure border wall in the south, I think part of our issue with this opioid crisis is all these illegal drugs on the street, and so we have to tackle that,” he said, adding, “It’s not racist to talk about illegal immigration, we have to have that conversation.”