ORLANDO, Fla.—Tennessee officials trying to fight the epidemic of prescription drug abuse in the state say they hope a bill being considered by lawmakers will crack down on the problem.
Tennessee ranks in the top three states in the nation for the number of prescriptions written per population, with about 18 prescriptions a year written for every person in the state.
A recent analysis by The Associated Press shows oxycodone and hydrocodone sales, the two most popular prescription painkillers, have exploded in the last 10 years.
Tennessee had some of the nation's largest increases. From 2000 to 2010, oxycodone sales in the state increased more than 500 percent, and hydrocodone sales increased nearly 300 percent.
Across the nation, more people now die from accidental drug overdoses than from vehicular accidents.
Gov. Bill Haslam backs the bill, now being considered in various Tennessee legislative committees. The legislation would make it mandatory for doctors to check the state's controlled substance monitoring database for a patient's prescription history before they prescribe pain medications such as opioids. Such a program is in place now but its use is optional.
The measure also would require doctors to input patient information into the database every seven days rather than every 40 days, as currently required.
"Less people will have access to drugs and more people will get treatment if we can stop it on the front end," said Rodney Bragg, assistant commissioner for the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Division of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Services, while talking about the bill at a prescription drug abuse summit in Orlando this week.
The first-ever National Rx Drug Abuse Summit brought together about 700 people from across the nation, including governors, congressmen and women, health care providers, law enforcement and government officials.
Speakers included Gil Kerlikowske, the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, and U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin.
"We don't use the term 'epidemic' lightly, but this is an epidemic in this country," Kerlikowske said.
Bragg and other Tennessee officials met with Kerlikowske in a closed-door session to discuss specific problems the state faces.
Bragg told Kerlikowske the bill likely would have the votes to pass and would make a big impact on the prescription drug problem.
Officials said they would also like lawmakers to consider passing a bill to require that someone must show ID when picking up a prescription for someone else. That idea has been met with more resistance, they said.
Turning the tide to decrease prescription drug abuse will take education, awareness, tighter laws and better monitoring, experts at the summit said.
Some of the problems include over-prescription of drugs by doctors, lack of education and drug monitoring databases that are voluntary rather than mandatory.
Chattanooga lawyers Alix Michel and David Ward, who were speakers at the summit, said they frequently talk to doctors and pharmacists who are not aware of the extent of the problem or don't think it is their problem.
"With the number of deaths now being more than automobile accidents, there should be a similar type of training program in place for prescription drugs," Michel said during his presentation. "As a doctor, you have to carefully tailor your treatment to the patient standing in front of you. No one really is immune to this epidemic."
Mariann Martin covers healthcare in Chattanooga and the surrounding region. She joined the Times Free Press in February 2011, after covering crime and courts for the Jackson (Tenn.) Sun for two years. Mariann was born in Indiana, but grew up in Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Belize. She graduated from Union University in 2005 with degrees in English and history and has master’s degrees in international relations and history from the University of Toronto. While attending Union, ...