MEMPHIS, TN - (WMC-TV) – Sobering new research shows more than 16 hundred deaths in Tennessee in one year related to prescription drugs, eight percent suicides. The rest: accidental overdoses.
Some Mid-South doctors say we've reached crisis level when it comes to over-prescribing patients.
"The last time I checked the stats in Tennessee we had the highest number of unique prescriptions per individual per year," Dr. Barbara Geater says.
Memphis family physician Doctor Barbara Geater is particularly concerned about doctors over-prescribing highly addictive pain medications like Oxycontin and Oxycodone.
"Enough pain medication are prescribed each year for every single adult in the united states to take one a day for three months," Dr. Geater said.
What's the side effect?
Since 2009, accidental drug overdoses have officially outnumbered car accidents as the leading cause of accidental death.
"And it seems like in society it seems okay because it's a prescription," Debbie Coy of Focus Healthcare of Tennessee said.
Debby Coy is a licensed master social worker in substance abuse and a recovering addict.
"And the more you take the more you need, and Anna Marie I remember at the end I was living in bondage where I couldn't leave the house without the stuff," she said.
A doctor's prescription for Xanax led to more abuse.
"Sleeping pills, pain pills when they were available, Adderal, diet pills, cough syrup. Just anything I could get my hands on," said Coy.
Coy says addicts often resort to doctor shopping to get multiple prescriptions.
"The podiatrist, the OBYGYN, the dentist, you know internists, family practice, psychiatrists," she said.
Not all doctors have sufficient tools to cross check patient records. 37 states including Tennessee and Mississippi have a prescription drug monitoring program. Arkansas and Missouri do not.
"A Tennessee doctor can write a prescription. If they go to West Memphis, I'm not going to see that," Dr. Geater.
The abundance of pills is spilling over onto the streets, where illegal sales have become one of the fastest growing crimes. Experts urge doctors to spend more time with patients before putting pen to the prescription pad.
"You know you can see the signs if you just open your eyes and look. It's very important because you know you're dealing with lives," Debby Coy said.
Experts we spoke to say every state needs to adopt a drug monitoring program. And, they say, even in states where a prescription database is available, not all doctors are using them.