Opioids

As Tennessee Forces Opioid Prescription Cutbacks, More People Are Dying of Overdoses

Deaths continue to rise, thanks to increased use of less-safe black market pain pills.

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The state of Tennessee last year put into place regulations limiting and controlling the duration and dosages of opioid painkillers that doctors could legally prescribe, all in the name of fighting addiction.

Yet now the state is seeing a new record in deaths due to overdoses. The latest data from the Tennessee Department of Health shows 1,304 opioid-related overdose deaths in the state for 2018, a 42-death increase over 2017. It is part of a five-year trend in which opioid overdose deaths have increased each year.

Tennessee is one of the top states where residents hunt for painkiller prescriptions. Until last year, there were actually more prescriptions written each year for pain medications than the population of the state (6.7 million). Over the past five years, prescriptions have dropped from 8.2 million each year to 6 million in 2018.

Over the exact same period, deaths continued to rise. And everybody knows why this is happening: Prescribing fewer pills doesn't stop either people who have legitimate pain from continuing to feel pain, and it doesn't stop people who are addicted to opioids from seeking out more opioids. Such users simply turn to the black market for opioids, where the drugs are much less safe and often include dangerously high doses of fentanyl precisely because of the lack of quality control. More than 60 percent of the overdose deaths in Tennessee in 2018 were attributed to fentanyl. People are dying in part because the state is stopping them from pursuing safer pills. The Tennessean takes note of the roots of these problems:

Experts say the persistent rise in deaths statewide signals a continued shift of the opioid crisis toward black market drugs. Although the crisis was sparked by prescription painkillers, much of the epidemic is now fueled by street drugs and counterfeit pills that are less predictable, more dangerous and ultimately harder to stop.

Trevor Henderson, Nashville's opioid response coordinator, said this "second stage" of the opioid crisis is likely to plague the state for years to come.

"Keeping an eye on prescriptions was one problem, but trying to figure out how many fake pills are coming into the neighborhood? That is a whole other thing," Henderson said. "Once people are buying off the streets, there is no prescribing, there are no records, and it's hard to know who is doing what, when and where."

Reason's Jacob Sullum has previously noted that the availability of prescribed painkillers did not correlate well with overdose deaths. Even though doctors in Tennessee had been handing them out like candy, the state saw fewer overdose deaths per 100 people than other states where doctors were more stingy. Making the drugs harder to get legally did not improve safety and is not an effective way to fight opioid overdoses.

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  1. Keeping an eye on prescriptions was one problem, but trying to figure out how many fake pills are coming into the neighborhood? That is a whole other thing…

    A whole other financially lucrative thing for those in the prohibition industry.

  2. According to what Sullum tells us these must not be actual pain patients, but instead are recreational users unable to obtain their usual prescription stuff so instead taking a chance on questionable stuff from even more questionable sources.

    IOW Death by stupidity.

    I’m all for safe and legal but practically speaking that is also going to mean relatively expensive. So who really thinks legalization is going to solve the problem of stupid people doing stupid things?

    1. Relatively expensive? On what planet are opioids expensive?

      1. Relatively expensive means that legal sellers are going to charge significantly more than fly by night outfits.

        Meaning people behaving stupid now are still going to have every opportunity to behave stupid even if they are legal.

        Just like Reason has been telling us that all those lung problems/deaths are from the fly by night vape products, not the reputable sellers.

        1. You’re joking, right?

          When heroin was legal it was $4.85/ounce. For 100% pure product.

          Now a pure ounce on the black market costs over $10,000. And that’s the equivalent of a pure ounce. The product is still contaminated.

          Chris

    2. Nothing can stop stupid people except Darwin’s Theory will make the world a better place.

    3. legalizing drugs will end the black market “monopoly” on them.

      It will also tend to develop standards which are poor in the black market.

  3. As Tennessee Forces Opioid Prescription Cutbacks, More People Are Dying of Overdoses

    If laws and regulation are causing more people to die, the answer is simple – more laws and regulation.

    Silly libertarians.

  4. It is part of a five-year trend in which opioid overdose deaths have increased each year.

    I think it’s safe to say that the 2018 law passed maybe hasn’t helped, but I would be hesitant to say that it’s the cause. Opioid deaths have been on the rise throughout North America for… about the last five years at least– so the law appears to be an attempt to revers that.

    For instance, opioid deaths in the Vancouver area had been on a downward trend when they put Inside. That downward trend continued for a couple of years afterward, and Insite was given the credit for that. When opioid deaths reversed and shot up, guess who didn’t get the credit for that?

    1. “put Inside” should be “started Insite”.

  5. If folks want to overdose on opiates on purpose then let them. Don’t need their DNA in the gene pool. And the dead folks, body to science to try and find the stupidity gene.

  6. Me: we should legalize drugs.
    O.P.: no because drugs harm people.
    Me: but prohibition causes overdose deaths.
    O.P.: Fuck ’em. That’s what they get.

  7. Legalization is the obvious answer,can any politician really be so stupid as to not recognize that?

    1. The stupidity comes from allowing the issue to be relegated to “opioid” use/abuse.
      Without separating prescription pain-killers, of an opioid source, from the black market products from the same origins, the “opioid crisis” becomes a conflated mess.
      Very few of the “opioid” deaths are the result of prescription pain-killer overdoses, yet those are lumped together with the ones from sources of unreliable potency and composition.
      Why the media, including a place like REASON, are following this model is a mystery. I am pretty sure I know why so many government people are – it’s about the control of every aspect of our lives.

      1. “Very few of the “opioid” deaths are the result of prescription pain-killer overdoses”

        That is simply not true. Granted most who die are not using those prescription drugs as prescribed (or are even the person for whom prescribed) and they often die with multiple other substances (prescription or not) on board so it is difficult to point to the specific straw that broke the came’s back. But, like guns, or any other inanimate object, it’s not the drugs that are responsible, it is the behaviors.

        While there are no doubt exceptions the vast majority of responsible (be it medicinal or recreational) drug users do not die from use. Mainly because they remain in control of the situation and do not do stupid, reckless, self destructive things.

        Meanwhile the other people – the ones who have surrendered control – end up with the drugs running their lives. And those people make terrible, stupid, reckless, self destructive decisions that, absent some major change, often lead to death.

        Declaring the substances legal and unrestricted would not do a single thing to change those behaviors. It would have the benefit of not limiting liberty or punishing people who are not a problem, but stupid, reckless, self destructive fools who play with fire will still die.

        1. “But, like guns, or any other inanimate object, it’s not the drugs that are responsible, it is the behaviors.”

          So well stated! 1000+
          “Holy cow, did you see that pill jump up off the coach and kill that person!” lol…

    2. That’s a lot of politicians.
      Both the left and the right have the things they wish to ban – like guns, drugs. etc

      Why they think banning will work differently because of the substance being banned is not very smart

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