HAWKINS COUNTY, Tenn. - Police claim there is a new pill problem that is starting to run rampant in the Tri-Cities.
"This is not just within Hawkins County. This is all of our communities: Washington County, Sullivan County. Everyone needs to be informed about it," said Tony Allen with the Hawkins County Sheriff's Department.
The narcotics unit said they've seen a major increase in the number of people overdosing on Oxymorphone, known as Opana-ER, which is a potent narcotic used to treat chronic pain.
The new extended-release (ER) formula is meant to be absorbed into the body over time, but police said some people want an immediate high and don't know the dangers. "If they crush it, break it, or bust it up to snort, there is an excellence chance of them dying," said Chad Gillenwater with the Hawkins County Sheriff's Department.
A warning on the bottle states the tablets are to be swallowed whole and are not to be cut, broken, chewed, dissolved or crushed. Otherwise, it leads to a rapid release of a large dose of the opiate which can be lethal. "It tells you right there in black and white, and yet we have people craving that high who end up in the hospital and death's doorstep," Gillenwater said.
Dr. Steve Butler, a nephrologist at Holston Valley Medical Center, said there have been at least two deaths in the Tri-Cities related to Opana abuse and dozens of overdoses in the past couple weeks.
Butler said if patients survive the overdose, it's still a long road to recovery. "If you get through ICU and being on a ventilator and the acute infection, you're not better. There's a lot of permanent damage that has been done," he said.
The long-term damage includes stroke, heart disease, blood diseases, kidney failure and liver disease.
Many patients have to undergo plasma-protein replacement therapy and others are on dialysis for the rest of their lives.
The Holston Valley Medical Center is working with the Opana-ER drug company to figure out how and why the drug is being abused in the Tri-Cities.