Why is this a big deal? Prescription painkillers belong to a class of drugs called opioids. Opioids are synthetic opiates, a class of drug that includes heroin. In some states, Florida and New Jersey in particular, the over-prescription of opioid painkillers caused the heroin abuse epidemic those states are facing today. Will Tennessee be the next heroin addiction hotspot?
Perhaps it already is. Overdose deaths in Tennessee rose by nearly 500 percent over a period of ten years, 564 in 2011. A study by JAMA Internal Medicine suggests the high level of use of prescription pain medicines has contributed directly to the increase in overdose deaths.
Senior author Dr. Timothy Jones noted that a small percentage of the patients showed common signs of prescription drug abuse. They found 2.5 percent of patients filled prescriptions at four or more pharmacies, and 7.6 percent visited more than four doctors to get pain pill prescriptions. Dr. Jones told HealthDay that this practice of “doctor shopping” correlates with likelihood of overdose, since it is common among substance abusers. According to the report of Dr. Jones’ statements, over 32,000 Tennessee residents received 25 or more opiate prescriptions in 2011. Over 5,500 visited more than ten doctors to get their prescriptions.