State To Announce New Prescription Drug Policies

Jun 3, 2014

Credit WUOT News, Matt Shafer Powell

Later today, state officials will announce a seven-point plan designed to address Tennessee's longstanding prescription drug abuse problem.

Treatment is reportedly a key part of the plan, but officials with the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse declined to provide further details Monday.

Less than a month ago, a committee of physicians recommended stronger limitations on prescribing opioids, including hydrocodone and Xanax. The committee's guidelines also clarified the threshold at which a patient must be sent to a pain specialist for further treatment. The committee noted that Tennessee ranks second in the nation for opioid abuse. State estimates show more than 69,000 residents have serious addictions to controlled substances.

Experts on substance abuse said they're concerned a prescription drug crackdown will simply push users to heroin, which has been making a comeback across the U.S. within the last decade. Data published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry indicate that prescription drug abuse served as an introduction to opiates in people who later transitioned into heroin abuse.

"There is now growing evidence that some prescription opioid abusers, particularly those who inhale or inject their drugs, graduate or shift to heroin, at least in part because it has become more accessible and far less expensive than prescription opioids," read the report, published in May.