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More must be done to curtail prescription drug abuse

Staff Report • Feb 3, 2012 at 8:14 AM

Prescription drugs are quickly becoming this nation’s No. 1 drug abuse problem.

Studies show there are 17 states where more people die from overdoses of prescription drugs than they do from car wrecks or any other form of accidental death. Tennessee is one of them. In fact, this state’s death rate from prescription drug overdoses has nearly tripled since 1999.

Prescription drug abuse has long been a problem in this region, where painkillers have replaced heroin and cocaine as recreation drugs of choice. It is a problem that costs Tennesseans millions of dollars annually in inflated health care bills and crowded emergency rooms. And it is not just a law enforcement issue or public health problem. It is also an economic problem that robs employers of a sober and reliable work force.

That’s why Gov. Bill Haslam and members of the state General Assembly have decided to take on the problem. Last year, state lawmakers passed a law to regulate pain clinics in Tennessee. Armed with new regulations, which will be overseen by the Tennessee Department of Health, the state is going after so-called pill mills where addicts can get prescriptions written by irresponsible doctors.

This year, the governor is pushing passage of a bill to require doctors and pharmacists to consult a controlled substance database before writing or dispensing prescription painkillers. Lawmakers are also looking to close a loophole in the law passed last year that allows patients with pain pill addictions to shop for doctors who will give them prescriptions to oxycodone, Vicodin and morphine.

We say it’s about time that Tennessee punishes doctors who overprescribe narcotics and other dangerous and habit-forming drugs. Physicians who are charged with such should have their mug shots distributed to the news media just like the state does now for those arrested of “doctor shopping” under TennCare.

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