If you have heard any news lately, you have likely heard something about the prescription drug misuse epidemic in East Tennessee. Our County Commission has recently been discussing a change to the local zoning ordinances, based on recommendations from the Regional Planning Commission. Prescription drug misuse has become a problem of epic proportions in our community, affecting not only families and our community, but also our economy through jobs—the inability to hire workers who pass a pre-employment drug screen, to be exact—and tax dollars, by increased costs in the most obvious categories, including law enforcement, public assistance, health care, education, and the judicial system.

Prescription drug misuse in Anderson County has hit record highs and the ramifications and negative consequences are widespread. In Anderson County, while our rates have trended downward, there were over 137 prescription drug-related criminal offenses in 2013. This equates to a rate of 204.4 per 100,000 population 10 years and older. The drug overdose rate in our county is 33.1/100,000, significantly higher than that of our state (17.9) and our region1 (22.4). Perhaps most heartbreaking is the rate of babies born drug-dependent, also known as Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, which boasts a rate of 37.9 per 1,000 live births. At the Prescription Drug Task Force kick-off event, local OB-GYNs opined these rates to be extremely low compared to what they see on a weekly basis. The rate of 37.9/1,000 in Anderson County, however, is much higher than the rate of our state (11.5) and our region (28.4).2

The Prescription Drug Task Force brought together elected officials, physicians, OB-GYNs, law enforcement officers, parents, the medical examiner, and other concerned people in our community to address prescription drugs as they affect us, right here at home. While they are just getting started, great things are already happening. Policies and ordinances are being examined to ensure we create an infrastructure which supports a healthy and safe community.

The outlook is good, however: as bleak as things may be now, Senator Lamar Alexander announced during his recent visit to Tennessee additional funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to add to the Partnership for Success funding already in place in our state to combat this terrible problem. During his visit to Oak Ridge, local officials had an opportunity to discuss the newly formed Anderson County Prescription Drug Task Force, which appeared to be news welcomed warmly by the Senator.

As terrible as the prescription drug misuse problem is, we must not lose sight of the importance of quality of life for our neighbors suffering from chronic pain. As we continue to explore possibilities of restricting zoning ordinances and placing more training and certification requirements on practitioners prescribing narcotic pain relievers, we do not wish to restrict access to care in our community. What we do seek, however; is to allow the reputable clinics to serve patients in need, while restricting “pill mills” from operating in our backyard.

Dr. James Choo, Board Certified physician in Pain Management, with Pain Consultants of East Tennessee (American Pain Society Center of Excellence) said “a bottle neck effect is good for pain clinics, but we must look forward to the effect limiting clinics will have on heroin misuse down the road.” Dr. Choo will bring an important perspective to the Task Force. He went on to say “simply, there are too few trained pain experts running pain clinics.”

That’s precisely what the Prescription Drug Task Force will do. By being proactive in addressing substance misuse issues in our community before they arise, we have an opportunity to change the social norms. The next Prescription Drug Task Force meeting will be held on October 26 at 6:00 pm at Methodist Medical Center. For more information, please call 865-457-3007.

1 Region 2 consists of Scott, Campbell, Claiborne, Grainger, Union, Anderson, Morgan, Roane, Knox, Jefferson, Hamblen, Cocke, Sevier, Blount, Monroe, and Loudon Counties.

2 Tennessee Partnership for Success Rx Baseline Data Profile: Anderson County. Prepared by EMT Associates, Inc. July 8, 2015.

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