Speaking both figuratively and literally, our drug issue in this state is "killing" Tennesseans. Last year alone, we have seen a 23% increase in the number of prescriptions for the likes of Oxycodone, hydrocodone and similar drugs written and dispensed in our state.
Prescription pills have now moved to the forefront of Tennessee's drug issues. Think about these drug facts:
* Prescription opioid overdose is now the second leading cause of accidental death in the United States, killing more people than heroin and cocaine combined.
* In 2009, Tennessee ranked second in the nation, with 17.3 retail prescriptions written per capita, compared with a national average of 12.
* Nationwide, prescription drugs account for the second most commonly abused category of drugs, second only to marijuana.
* 7 million Americans report current nonmedical use of prescription drugs, more than the number using cocaine, heroin, hallucinogens and inhalants combined.
* 1,059 Tennesseans died from drug overdoses in 2010, more than doubling over a decade.
* The top prescriber in Tennessee wrote prescriptions for more than 5 million doses of painkillers in 2011.
Current projections now are that requests for prescription pill addiction will surpass those for alcohol by next year in 2013. For the folks on the frontlines battling the drug issue in Tennessee, these are huge setbacks.
While the 107th General Assembly has passed some good legislation to help our state try to turn the tide on the prescription pill epidemic in Tennessee, there is much more to be done. The collateral impact of prescription drugs and other illicit substances are huge on our children. We see increased truancy issues, accompanied by decreased student performance in our schools. Our courts indicate dockets wrought with the increased prevalence of drugs with roughly 80% drug-related cases. Our social services system is inundated with drug-exposed children being removed and placed in the state's custody in the foster care system. It's a vicious cycle, taxing the state and its citizens mercilessly the longer it continues to grow.
To boil it all down to two generic points, we must continue to give law enforcement the tools they need to meet this epidemic head on and we must develop more comprehensive treatment to turn the tide on the addictions driving this illicit industry. Changing Tennessee's course on the drug issue hinges heavily on those two main areas.