May 26, 2012
Prescription drug abuse and overdoses are overwhelming state officials in Tennessee.
Nearly 18 million prescriptions for controlled substances such as OxyContin and hydrocodone (the primary ingredient of Vicodin) were dispensed in the state during 2011, which represented a 23% increase from the previous year.
Per capita, oxycodone sales increased five- or six-fold in most of the state from 2000 to 2010, according to the Associated Press.
So many people are abusing prescription drugs that requests for drug treatment are expected to outnumber those for alcohol counseling by next year.
Mental Health Commissioner Doug Varney told the AP: “We have more deaths from drug overdose in our state than car crashes or homicides or suicides.” Tennessee now joins at least 20 other states in which drug poisoning fatalities exceeded either motor vehicle crashes or suicides.
Drug-related deaths are climbing, from 644 in 2005 to 887 in 2010, with the biggest culprit being pharmaceuticals.
“We’re in jeopardy of losing an entire generation of our youth to addiction if we don’t get a grip on this,” Tommy Farmer, an assistant special agent in charge of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, told the AP. “I mean that sincerely.”
Nationally, emergency rooms have been flooded with cases of people overdosing on hydrocodone, with cases skyrocketing from 19,221 in 2000 to 86,258 in 2009. The drug also has contributed to the deaths of celebrities, including actors Heath Ledger, Brittany Murphy and Corey Haim. Others who have admitted to Vicodin addiction range from right-wing commentator Rush Limbaugh to rapper Eminem.