By Sheila Burke, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — In spite of efforts to crack down on the state’s prescription drug abuse epidemic, a new report shows nearly 18 million prescriptions for controlled substances such as OxyContin and hydrocodone were dispensed in Tennessee last year — a 23 percent increase from the previous year.
The surging figures in the report to the General Assembly are a setback for those fighting to get a grip on the prescription drug.
“We’re in jeopardy of losing an entire generation of our youth to addiction if we don’t get a grip on this,” said Tommy Farmer, an assistant special agent in charge of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. “I mean that sincerely.”
Tennessee has some of the highest rates of prescription drug abuse in the nation. An Associated Press analysis found that per capita, oxycodone sales increased five- or six-fold in most of the state from 2000 to 2010.
“When you look at my units, we do detoxification of nice middle-class people who have been prescribed opiates and have slowly increased their dose and then they can’t get off,” Martin said.
The prescription drug epidemic is so bad in Tennessee that officials are now projecting that requests for treatment for pill addiction will overtake alcohol by 2013, state Mental Health Commissioner Doug Varney said.
“I never thought in my career I would see that,” Varney said.
The number of drug overdoses is staggering, he said.
“We have more deaths from drug overdose in our state than car crashes or homicides or suicides,” Varney said.
There were 887 in Tennessee who died from drug overdose in 2010, the vast majority coming from prescription drug abuse, according to the latest figures provided by the Health Department. That’s up from 644 overdose deaths in 2005.
State law requires pharmacists and doctors to enter drug information into Tennessee’s Controlled Substance Database when they dispense pain medicines.
The number of prescriptions entered in the database in 2010 had actually decreased from earlier years. In 2010, there were 13.7 million prescriptions entered, compared to 15.2 million in 2009.
A total of 17.9 million prescriptions for controlled substances were entered into the database in 2011. Those included two drugs — tramadol and carisoprodol — that were added in 2011 to the list of controlled substances.
The 23 percent increase came after factoring out the new drugs, which left more than 16.9 million prescriptions entered in the database.
Several of the prescriptions that were dispensed were for people who live outside the state, but the report doesn’t say how many people were not residents.
The Controlled Substance Database Advisory Committee of the state Board of Pharmacy issued the report to the General Assembly at the end of last month.
Both health and law enforcement officials say the figures are consistent with an increase in the number of prescription drugs written nationwide.
“There is a real problem in our country with overprescribing of all medications and opiates are particularly problematic because they are highly addictive,” said Dr. Peter R. Martin, a professor of psychiatry and pharmacology who is also the director of the Vanderbilt Addiction Center.
Martin said it’s turning grandmothers and other people into addicts.