Prescription Drug Abuse Tops Alcohol Abuse In Tennessee

Friday, August 29, 2014

Abuse of prescription opioids, ie: pain medications, is the number one drug problem for Tennesseans receiving publicly funded assistance for treatment services. Over the past decade, substance abuse admissions for prescription drugs like: hydrocodone, oxycodone, morphine, and methadone have increased 500 percent.

The situation has driven admissions to treatment facilities up, from 764 in 2001 to 3,828 admissions in 2011.   

 “As of July 1, 2012, the number of admissions in our state for prescription drug abuse exceeded admissions for alcohol abuse for the first time in history,” said E. Douglas Varney, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.

According to a 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, more than 4 percent of Tennessean’s over the age of 18 and approximately 12 percent of 18-25 year olds reported using pain relievers recreationally in the past year. 

“Many people needing substance abuse treatment are not getting the help they need,” said Commissioner Varney. “And of the number of Tennesseans who could benefit from treatment, only about one person in eight actually received it.” 

Substance abuse treatment offers both a benefit to those who receive it and a savings to communities, said officials.

“The greatest savings is a reduction in the cost of crime for law enforcement, general healthcare costs, court and victimization costs and increased employer earnings,” said Commissioner Varney. “And the gain can also be measured in lives saved from a premature death.” 

In 2010, Tennessee’s 1,059 recorded drug-overdose deaths add up to an estimated 7,000 years of life lost, and a loss of earnings of approximately $238 million. 

“We all pay a price when someone needing substance abuse treatment doesn’t get the help they need,” said Commissioner Varney.         

During the months of June, July and August the TDMHSAS has put the spotlight on the epidemic of prescription drug use through the roll out of Prescription for Success: Statewide Strategies to Prevent and Treat the Prescription Drug Abuse Epidemic in Tennessee.

The mission of the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services is to plan for and promote the availability of a comprehensive array of quality prevention, early intervention, treatment, habilitation and rehabilitation services and supports based on the needs and choices of individuals and families served. For more information, visit

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