MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - How bad is America's opioid epidemic?
Dr. Keith Anderson, a Germantown cardiologist, told the Memphis Rotary Club this week that Americans make up 5 percent of the world's population, but consume over 90 percent of opiates globally.
"It's a huge problem in Tennessee. We're second highest in prescriptions per patient behind West Virginia," said Anderson, 2016-17 President of the Tennessee Medical Association
"TMA has mounted a pretty vigorous campaign to educate doctors and patients about the problem and to teach physicians how to write these (prescriptions for opiates) properly," Anderson said.
Doctors can log on to Tennessee's Controlled Substance Monitoring Data Base to see if patients are "doctor shopping" to obtain large amounts of pain medication.
"This way doctors can say hey, last month you got five prescriptions," Anderson told Rotarians. "It helps us identify patients at risk."
Anderson serves as managing partner of Sutherland Cardiology Clinic and clinical instructor in cardiology at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center College of Medicine.
"Most doctors are compassionate and somebody comes in and has got a bad pain problem or whatever, doctors want to help them but writing a narcotics prescription is probably not the best way to do that," the TMA leader said.
"We need more vigorous programs to identify patients at risk and send them for rehabilitation or to mental health centers," Anderson said.
The doctor says a renewed effort is needed to "recapture" unused drugs that abusers get one way or another from relatives or friends.
"Opioids affect one in six people and may be as an unexpected development in opioid abuse, there's a tremendous rise in heroin overdoses. They're accidental overdoses. Heroin is very available and inexpensive. They don't realize what they're doing or how powerful it is," Anderson said.
Nearly 1,500 people died in drug overdoses in Tennessee in 2015, the most recent statistics available. To underscore the growing drug problem, drug deaths are far outpacing Tennessee traffic fatalities as 965 people died on the Volunteer State's roadways in 2015.
Anderson briefly addressed the "elephant in the room," the American Health Care Act (AHCA) is scheduled for a vote in the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday, March 23.
"The bill is in evolution and changing. What you see today you may not see tomorrow," Anderson said. There's a lot of good things in the Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare); there's a lot of things that haven't worked. We would rather have seen it (ACA) modified than repealed and replaced," the TMA president said.
Anderson talked about the challenges of getting healthy young people to buy health insurance and detailed the complexity of providing health insurance for America's uninsured or underinsured population. As TMA President, Dr. Anderson represents 9,000 Tennessee physicians, about 60% of all the doctors in the state.