State leaders met with health care professionals and law enforcement agencies in Knoxville on Thursday to discuss a new strategy for reducing prescription drug abuse. Their plan is called Prescription for Success.
The data on prescription drug abuse in Tennessee is staggering. About 221,000 residents have used pain relievers for non-medical use in the last year and roughly 70 percent of those people got the drugs from the medicine cabinet of someone they know, according to the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.
The main message at the meeting was that legislation from Nashville won't solve the problem, local community efforts to put this plan in place will.
Department of Mental Health Commissioner Doug Varney told us it all starts with preventing over prescribing.
"We hope to limit just the shear volume of prescriptions that are written out there," said Varney. "We think that's really through healthcare provider efforts and really tracking what patients are doing."
More than 4,000 children, ages 12-17, are dependent on drugs or alcohol in our region, according to the Department of Mental Health. The data also shows more than 32,000 adults are addicts in Northeast Tennessee.
Varney said this new plan tackles all stages of addiction including prevention, early intervention, enforcement, treatment and recovery.
Part of the prevention stage includes continuing use of the Controlled Substance Monitoring Database. Doctors are required to enter in prescriptions they write within seven days. It allows their colleagues to look up and make sure a patient isn't getting the same prescription from multiple doctors.
Varney told us they'd like to have the data entries show up in real-time, so doctors don't have to wait for up to a week to get the information. He said the database has been very successful already, reducing the number of people doctor shopping by 50 percent.
"We're very encouraged by that," he said. "We're also showing a trend that the actual number of narcotics is going down, so several kinds of encouraging early results."
Even though they've seen success with the database, there is still a very long way to go, said Varney.
The number of drug overdose deaths in Tennessee rose 220 percent from 1999 to 2012, according to the most recent data from the State Department of Mental Health.
Varney told us coming up with more treatment options should help reduce the number of users in the state.
He said one of the most successful treatment options available has been drug court.
"People that get involved in drug courts, they generally stay clean and sober," Varney said. "If you go into incarceration without some kind of intervention, treatment, generally you don't make it."
Knoxville drug court judge, Chuck Cerny, told those at the meeting that he wants to expand these programs. We're told he'd also like to have those individuals currently enrolled in drug court programs tell their stories to young people to persuade them not to start a habit.
Varney told us it will take time to see the effects of their new plan.
The meeting will continue in Johnson City on Friday.