The opioid crisis has hit Tennessee particularly hard. In 2016, our state saw nearly 1,200 deaths caused by opioid overdoses. Our overdose rate is a staggering 18 deaths per 100,000 people—much higher than the national average of 13 deaths per 100,000 people.
Many of these deaths result from prescriptions written by doctors. In this area, Tennessee is also far above the national average. Tennessee clinicians wrote 118 opioid prescriptions per 100 people, compared to the U.S. average of 70. To combat opioid-related deaths and reduce over-prescription, the Department of Justice issued a temporary restraining order to prevent two local pharmacies from dispensing controlled substances, including opioids.
Fighting opioid abuse in Tennessee
This action is part of the DOJ’s larger effort to stem the opioid crisis. The department claims that the two pharmacies—both in Celina—violated the Controlled Substances Act by prescribing opioids that were not intended for medical purposes. The pharmacies also allegedly ignored several flags of drug abuse and trafficking, including suspiciously high doses of opiates and patients traveling long distances for medication. State authorities have linked two opiate-related deaths to the pharmacies.
It remains to be seen whether the DOJ’s crackdown will reduce Tennessee’s rate of deaths caused by prescription opioids. But for now, the action symbolizes that the federal government is serious about fighting the opioid crisis in our state.
The dangerous consequences of opioids
Opiates are a highly addictive class of painkillers. Even a small amount as prescribed by a doctor can result in dependence, addiction and overdose. They can also act as gateways to illegal street drugs like heroin.
Opioids can also have criminal consequences. The state takes drug-related offenses very seriously, even if the perpetrator’s behavior results from addiction. Some offenders may receive alternatives like substance abuse treatment. But possessing, selling or trafficking illegal prescription drugs can result in penalties like fines, community service, probation and prison time.