Tennessee Governor To Navigate Divisive Issue Of Prescription Drug Abuse

According to the CDC, Tennessee sells the second-most kilograms of prescription painkillers. It ranks 13th in the country for its drug overdose death rate.

According to the CDC, Tennessee sells the second-most kilograms of prescription painkillers. It ranks 13th in the country for its drug overdose death rate. Credit: ep_jhu via Flickr

Tennessee ranks second in the nation for the amount of prescription painkillers sold, and studies show one out of 20 people age 12 or older in the state is misusing them.

Gov. Bill Haslam and the state’s top mental health official Doug Varney are calling prescription drug abuse a “widespread epidemic,” and they plan to lay out their strategies on tackling the problem Tuesday.

So far, divisions have emerged over the the best solution. Earlier this year, the state legislature discussed repealing a law that some say gives physicians too much leeway to prescribe potentially dangerous pain relievers. But Julie Griffin of the Tennessee Medical Association told lawmakers that doctors were split on whether repealing was a good idea.

“Tennessee Medical Association has about 8,000 physicians, and on most issues we agree pretty unanimously,” she said. “On this issue in particular, we have members on both sides.”

She said more restrictions on doctors could send patients to pain clinics, which might not prescribe drugs appropriately.

A state spokesman says the governor’s plan won’t recommend specific changes to the law, although it may influence legislation in the future.