NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — On the east side of the Cumberland River in Nashville sits the oldest rehab center in Tennessee.

“We’ve been here since 1964, right here in this same location in East Nashville,” said Dr. Mark Lasko of Samaritan Recovery Community.

Samaritan typically sees people who are struggling with problems beyond just addiction.

“About 70% of our patients fall under the class of indigent,” Lasko said.

Indigent is another word for ‘very impoverished.’ A new Tennessee law went into effect July 1st that will affect the population of indigent people like the ones at Samaritan.

“The bill is very well-meaning in that it’s designed so that law enforcement can find where there are pockets of overdoses that are happening,” Lasko said.

The legislation is fairly simple – hospitals have already had to report deaths from poison or suffocation to law enforcement. This new law adds the words ‘fatal drug overdose’ to that list.

“When a drug overdose comes into the emergency room or the hospital, they need to be able to know who supplied that drug to that individual,” Sen. Joey Hensley (R-Hohenwald) said.

In addition to his role in the State Senate, Hensley is a family medicine physician in Hohenwald and the medical examiner in Lewis and Wayne Counties. He got his M.D. from UT-Memphis and co-sponsored the law when it was still a bill.

The Tennessee legislature voted unanimously to enact the law, but it took a few rounds of voting to get there because the law was originally written to make it so that hospitals would report all overdoses, not just fatal ones.

“There was concern with that aspect that people might not go,” Hensley said. “But then we changed it to fatal drug overdose, so that narrowed it down considerably.”

Lasko worries the new law might stop people from getting treatment because they think they might get arrested. “There’s no reason not to send someone to the hospital if there’s an overdose,” he said.

But Lasko says he supports it wholeheartedly the way it’s written, as it could help remove dangerous drugs from our streets.

The Tennessee Department of Health has a drug overdose dashboard. Its most recent data is from 2020 and shows the state had 3,032 deaths that year. In 2019, there were 2,089.