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Prescription Drug Abuse in Tennessee (Part 2): Who’s Responsible?

As noted in our previous post, October is National Substance Abuse Prevention Month. In order to raise awareness and hopefully, to help victims, we’re partnering with the Metropolitan Drug Commission to bring you a series of articles on prescription drug abuse and how it impacts us in East Tennessee. Thanks to Karen Pershing for her work with this fine organization and for her contribution to our blog.

Who’s yo Blame?

Today a prescription pad can be as dangerous as a loaded gun. The sharp increase in the last decade of opiate painkillers has left a path of death and destruction that will affect all of us for years to come. Efforts are being made to tighten restrictions through state and federal laws, but ultimately it begins with the people holding the prescription pads.

Medical providers want to help their patients and are trained to do whatever they can to manage pain and discomfort. None of us want to feel pain and we all want something that can take it away. In the late 1990’s, pharmaceutical companies began producing long-acting opiate pain relievers. These were initially promoted as being both long-acting and non-addictive. Just imagine! What would you do as a provider? Naturally, you would think that you had found the panacea of pain relievers for your patients. Fast forward 15 years and here we are, in the midst of one of the worst drug abuse epidemics that we have ever seen. The drugs are not cocaine or heroin, but rather FDA approved, physician prescribed narcotics.

The Market for Pain Killers

While some providers have become more cautious with their prescriptions, others have capitalized on the market for pain killers by opening pain management clinics. These clinics operate with the sole intention of feeding the addictive habits of those who find themselves trapped in a cycle of addiction as a result of an accident or surgery. Most patients begin by taking the medications as prescribed. Over time, however, they find that more pills are needed to get the same relief they originally experienced from the prescribed dose. Before they know it, they are dependent on the medications and will do whatever it takes to get more pills and avoid painful withdrawal symptoms.

To be clear, not all pain management clinics are bad. There are individuals with conditions that cause chronic pain and these medications allow them to get up every morning and live productive lives. These patients need to be managed by board certified pain management specialists who are trained in multiple disciplines.

On the other hand are the pain clinics you know as “pill mills.” These clinics provide very little medical care, but rather prescribe large doses of narcotics to whomever walks in the door. Scattered throughout our state, these clinics are primarily owned by business investors who capitalize on the prescription pain pill epidemic. Many of these clinics have been shut down by the IRS due to tax evasion, but few have been shut down due to the harm they cause their patients.

Cause for Hope?

As reported in  Thursday’s Knoxville News Sentinel, federal authorities issued indictments on medical providers who worked at the Breakthrough Pain Therapy Center in Maryville. The owners had previously been indicted, but there had been no charges filed against any of the doctors, nurse practitioners or physician’s assistants who actually wrote the prescriptions. One of the physician’s assistants listed in the indictment is currently working in at least 2 other pain management clinics in Knoxville.

While it’s encouraging that these medical providers are finally being held accountable for their actions, many are still suffering from their practices. Addicts are struggling to find treatment, families are grieving the loss of loved ones, and a generation of innocent children are suffering the results of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS). As we shut these clinics down and begin to hold providers more accountable, we have to also provide ways for individuals to get off of these addictive narcotics. This process requires medical supervision, either through outpatient or inpatient care, both of which are costly and can be difficult to access.

Get Help

If you are currently struggling with prescription drug abuse or an addiction to opioid painkillers and want help, visit the GET HELP section on the Metropolitan Drug Commission’s website.

If you have lost a loved one to prescription drug abuse or overdose, or if you are caring for a child afflicted with NAS, The Lawyers of Brown & Roberto would like to hear your story, at no cost or obligation to you. Contact us today at (865) 691-2777 or use the convenient contact form below.

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