A new law forces doctors to check a data base showing a patient's drug history before the doctor writes that patient a prescription for pain medicine.
The law was enacted to help decrease the number of deaths in Tennessee due to prescription drugs, which is 26% higher than the national average.
Dr. Mitchell Mutter is Medical Director for Special Projects for the Tennessee Department of Health. He calls the date the law passed, April 1, "as a ground zero for cracking down on pain medicine abuse."
"Every family is touched in one way or another with substance abuse," Mutter said.
The law makes it mandatory for all doctors to check a patient's drug history through the controlled substance monitoring data base.
"Doctors, nurses, physician assistants all start querying the database. They will learn a lot about their patients and this is a patient safety public health issue," Mutter explained.
Mutter said the database gives doctors a true understanding of who needs pain medicine and who is abusing.
He added that it is far superior to what physicians previously had access to because now they can see where patients got prescriptions, who prescribed them, what they got and how many pills they obtained.
"We will reduce babies' dependent on narcotics. We will reduce unintended overdoses. We will reduce [emergency room] visits. We will reduce traffic accidents," said Mutter.
Doctor Corey Slovis is the Chairman of Emergency Medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
"It's a huge problem money-wise, abuse-wise, crime-wise. Whenever we are prescribing narcotics it is a potential red flag," Slovis said.
According to Slovis, doctor shopping was so prevalent in the ER that the medical center had to change its policy on pain medication.
It is a situation that means innocent people have to wait in line at the ER while others try to abuse narcotics.
Slovis explained that the policy included changes like not giving narcotics for things tooth aches and back pain.
"The number of patients for pain meds dropped 50% in one month," he added.
He continued, "Tells me that a lot of people are looking for pain medicine."
Under the new law, the Tennessee Department of Health can issue fines or revoke licenses if doctors and pharmacists do not utilize the database.
Before the law, searching for patients was voluntary and doctors used the database 1.85 million times total.
Since its enactment, the law is expected to bring that number up to 5.2 million in the first year.
Doctor Mutter said that he was at a conference on the west coast and some officials there were boasting of an 11 percent compliance rate.
Physicians in Tennessee are almost at a 100 percent database usage rate.