‘I think we’re going to lose a generation’: Doctors highlight importance of disposing drugs amid opioid epidemic

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – The Drug Enforcement Agency is working to keep prescription drugs and opioids out of the wrong hands.  

On Saturday, Tennesseans could drop off unwanted medications to dozens of sites across the state as part of the National Prescription Drug Take Back Day.  

Doctors say making sure drugs are properly disposed of is important now more than ever.  

“When we read about our children, our grandchildren being addicted to heroin or they end up [with] synthetic fentanyl, oftentimes, unfortunately, they started by diverting or using these prescription pain medicines that were in somebody’s home that weren’t being used,” said Dr. Jeffrey Hodrick, an orthopedic surgeon at Southern Joint Replacement Institute. “So they’re kept in your cabinet for really no great reason other than I’m keeping it in my cabinet just in case I need it.“ 

Dr. Chapman Sledge sees the opioid crisis from another perspective as the chief medical officer at Cumberland Heights Treatment Center. He says the current opioid and drug crisis is unlike anything he’s ever seen. 

“We used to talk about addiction as a potentially fatal disease and now we’re confronted with the fatality of this disease every single day,” Dr. Sledge said.  

Dr. Sledge says fentanyl has been the biggest game changer, which can be fatal in trace amounts. Drug officials are now warning the substance is circulating in street drugs that look identical to prescriptions. 

Dr. Sledge says what makes fentanyl so tough is its addictive qualities. Once addicted, the detox is unlike any other drug. After seeing patients fighting to come off the substance, he warns it’s something you should avoid starting at all costs.  

“Hydrocodone follows the rules. Oxycodone follows the rules; even heroin follows the rules. You know what you’ve got. You can predict the course of the withdrawal process. You can reduce the discomfort,” Dr. Sledge said. “With fentanyl, you really don’t know.” 

As an orthopedic surgeon who works with patients on pain management, Dr. Hodrick said he feels an obligation to counsel patients and urge them to get rid of their prescription drugs before they become a problem.  

“Go into your medicine cabinet. If there are medicines that you haven’t used or don’t need or haven’t been prescribed in the last month, get them out of your home because there is a chance someone else will come upon those medicines and use those for the wrong purpose and potentially become addicted, or could sell, or could divert them in the wrong way,” Dr. Hodrick said.  

For those addicted, recovery is possible. Dr. Sledge recommends anyone struggling with substance abuse to reach out for help. He says if you notice a problem in a loved one, seek help and plan an intervention before it’s too late. 

Dr. Sledge worries about what could happen down the line if the opioid epidemic doesn’t turn around.  

“So many young people have died from addiction in the prime of their existence that it’s adjusted the life expectancy in this country downward, and I think we’re going to lose a generation,” Dr. Sledge said.  

If you missed National Drug Take Back Day, drugs can also be dropped off at one of Tennessee’s 350 disposal locations. For the complete list, click here.

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