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1 in 3 Tennesseans Uses Narcotic Painkillers

And national research shows majority of prescription drug abusers supplied through family, friends

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People with one or more of these risk factors accounted for 55 percent of all overdose deaths, the researchers found.

In 2011, Tim Jones said, there were 32,000 Tennesseans who received 25 or more prescriptions for opiates, and 5,500 who got prescriptions from 10 or more doctors.

"That's pretty hard to come up with a good explanation for," he said. "If you're getting that many prescriptions from that many doctors, you're working pretty hard at it."

The Tennessee findings become more disturbing when held next to a national U.S. study about the sources of illicit prescription drugs.

CDC researchers found that nearly two-thirds of people of people aged 12 and older who reported light nonmedical use of narcotic painkillers received the drugs for free from a friend or relative. The data came from an annual survey on drug use.

As use escalates to abuse -- to the point at which people are taking narcotic painkillers 200 or more days a year -- friends and family continue to be a major source of the drugs, with about 26 percent still freely given and another 23 percent purchased.

Those heavy users also rely on prescriptions from more than one doctor for 27 percent of their narcotic medications, and drug dealers for 15 percent.

"It is clear that as you require more and more drugs, you're going to seek more and varied sources," Christopher Jones said. "You are less likely to get [narcotics] from friends and family for free and more likely to get them prescribed by one or more physicians or buy them from a friend or relative or ... drug dealer."

Doctors can play a large role in controlling this form of drug abuse by using some healthy skepticism when considering a prescription, Tim Jones said.

"We have now made it mandatory that anytime an opiate prescription is written, the pharmacist who fills it has to put it in the database and physicians have to look when prescribing," he said. "Now I can sit at my desk and look up their record and see that they've received prescriptions from five different doctors over the past five weeks. I can look them in the face and say, 'I'm sorry, you're not being truthful and you're not getting it from me.'"

People also can help by properly disposing of medicine they no longer need, Christopher Jones said.

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