Prescription Painkiller Use In TN

By: Jessa Goddard
By: Jessa Goddard

Knoxville (WVLT) Nationwide, the amount of five major painkillers sold at retail stores rose 90 percent between 1997 and 2005.

But the biggest increase of any state was here in Tennessee, by 206 percent.

Volunteer TV's Jessa Goddard has a look at the reasons why, and what's being done.

The issue is black and white at East Town Urgent Care.

Doctors here say they won't prescribe Oxycontin to anyone, for any reason, it's simply too addictive.

And the numbers seem to back them up.

A 206 percent increase in prescriptions for Oxycodone, Codeine, Hydrocodone, Morphine and Meperdine in the state in just nine years.

Dr. Jay Hammett, with East Towne Urgent Care says, "and many doctors would unknowingly prescribe medications to a patient but the patient would then leave that office or the next day go to another doctor and another pharmacist."

The Associated Press investigation found several reasons for the nationwide increase: an aging population, marketing campaigns by drug makers, and a greater acceptance of pain management by doctors.

But it found the sharp increase in Tennessee was due in large part to the generous drug benefit from Tenncare.

Glen Farr, with the UT College Of Pharmacy says, "the problem is, there are folks who deserve an academy award for being able to dupe the health care professionals."

But this past June, the state legislature made "doctor shopping" a felony.

That's obtaining multiple prescriptions for the same or similar drugs from several doctors.

Farr continues, "but it's still a fairly liberal program, compared with other states in the ability for patients to get medications."

And while there is reason to believe the numbers are turning around in Tennessee, some doctors are calling for broader reform.

Hammett says, "that's a mistake that they overlooked, it needs to be across the board, not just Tenncare. It needs to be self-pay and private."

In fact, the state legislature is expected to pass a similar bill next year that would extend the painkiller prohibition to all patients.

At the same time painkiller use was on the rise, the accidental poisoning rate in Tennessee was also 26 percent above the national average.

And the death rate from accidental drug poisoning in the state doubled.

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