In 2015, 1,451 people in Tennessee died from opioid-related overdose, an increase from the 1,263 deaths in 2014. According to WBIR, nearly five percent of Tennesseans are addicted to opiates, and the state is second in the nation in prescriptions per capita. In addition to the sales of illegal narcotics, prescription drug abuse is causing increasingly serious problems in Tennessee. Rampant abuse, misuse, addiction are impacting millions of residents, with overprescription providing a direct gateway. Federal agencies and lawmakers in Tennessee are taking action to reduce the amount of opioid painkiller prescriptions as well as the number of pills given out per each prescription, a step that several other states have taken as well. However, this led to residents obtaining opioids from illegal sources. In response, district attorneys filed a lawsuit against major opioid drugmakers including Purdue Pharma, Mallinckrodt, and Endo Pharmaceuticals using the Tennessee Drug Dealer Liability Act, a 2005 law otherwise known as the ‘crack tax’ law. The lawsuit aims to hold the drugmakers responsible for the growing addiction to opioids and for encouraging the idea that opioids are ‘miracle cures’ for all types of pain. As reported by USA Today, the plaintiffs in the lawsuit are Baby Doe, a boy born addicted to opiates in March 2015, and his mother Mary Doe who was an opiate addict and a victim of fraudulent pharmaceutical practices. This is only one account of what can happen due to the deceptive marketing practices of opiate manufacturers.
A similar lawsuit was filed in Washington in January alleging that Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, knew about illegal sales of OxyContin being sold on the street and did nothing about it, but collected the profits. On top of that, the Los Angeles Times conducted an investigation into Purdue Pharma and discovered that the drugmaker was making false marketing claims about its OxyContin. In addition to illicit drugmakers, the opioid epidemic in Tennessee is also fueled by doctors and medical professionals overprescribing opioid pain relievers. Ultimately, the overlying problem is the amount of pills dispensed. Although opioid prescriptions have been traced using a substance monitoring database, prescribing habits still have to be reassessed by the entire medical community. A multidisciplinary approach incorporating education about prevention, increased utilization of treatment, a decrease in supply, improved monitoring and regulation is needed to make a difference and minimize the state’s overdose deaths.