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Tennessee Plans to Stop Prescription Drug Abuse: Will Their Plan Work?

In the past decade, thousands of Tennessee residents have spent a large part of their day on a mission to obtain prescription medications, specifically opiates including Hydrocodone, Morphine, Oxycodone, and Methdadone. Whether they are obtained through a licensed physician by faking significant pain or purchased illegally on the street is of no consequence to the user. In many cases, it doesn’t matter if they are in the form of a pill, liquid, patch, or injection. The goal is simply to get their next fix.

However, an increasing number of individuals are seeking treatment. Over the past decade, the number of admissions to publicly funded treatment facilities has increased by an astounding 500 percent. According to E. Douglas Varney, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, as of July 1, 2012, the number of admissions for prescription drug abuse surpassed the number of admissions for alcohol abuse for the very first time.

Unfortunately, Commissioner Varney reports that there are still a substantial number of addicts who are unable to get the treatment they need. He stated, “And of the number of Tennesseans who could benefit from treatment, only about one person in eight actually received it.”

Making it easier to access substance abuse treatment offers significant benefits, not only for those who successfully complete treatment, but for their communities and the state as a whole.

Commissioner Varney went on to say, “The greatest savings is a reduction in the cost of crime for law enforcement, general healthcare costs, court and victimization costs and increased employer earnings. And the gain can also be measured in lives saved from a premature death.”

The consequences of Tennessee’s prescription drug epidemic include:
Increased healthcare costs as the number of ER visits for prescription drug poisoning has increased by almost 40% in a 5 year period.  A 220% increase in deaths resulting from an accidental overdose from 1999 to 2012. An increased number of broken families. The Department of Children’s Services reports that 50% of the children in their custody are the result of parental drug abuse, which should be very alarming to everyone.  Also there has been an increased number of babies who are born addicted to prescription medications.  Drug related crimes have also increased in the last 7 years, with a direct connection to drug use.

In an effort to bring attention to the prescription drug epidemic, the TDMHSAS initiated a new plan, the Prescription for Success: Statewide Strategies to Prevent and Treat the Prescription Drug Abuse Epidemic in Tennessee. This campaign has been heavily promoted throughout the state.

The plan consists of three primary components which include describing in detail the extent of Tennessee’s prescription drug problem.  It provides information as to how the problem is currently being addressed and it also contains a plan for the future that includes measurable, specific goals. This will allow the state to determine if the program’s efforts have been successful.

It is too soon to tell how this plan will impact prescription drug abuse in Tennessee, but it is definitely a step in the right direction.


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