NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN)- It was a major milestone in the fight against Tennessee’s opioid crisis — more than 27,000 pounds of unneeded prescriptions are gone from medicine cabinets across the state.

It’s more than just a drug takeback program, it gives doctors and state leaders a glimpse of how the opioid crisis looks in our state.

“I think that’s the crazy part of this. A lot of studies have shown that addiction starts sometimes from a pill that’s provided either from a family member, or a friend,” explained Special Agent Brett Pritts, with the Drug Enforcement Administration in Nashville.

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They are made with the intent to help ease the pain, but when medicine and addiction come together, that makes for a potentially deadly combination. Special Agent Pritts said he sees the dangers that lurk in medicine cabinets all too often.

“Prevention starts at home, and this initiative that we do twice a year, helps Americans get rid of unwanted, or unneeded pharmaceuticals that are just laying around in their medicine cabinets that could lead to a path of addiction or misuse,” said Special Agent Pritts.

On Monday, the DEA announced a major success in the fight against the opioid epidemic. The Louisville Division covering Kentucky, West Virginia, and Tennessee brought in nearly 47,000 pounds of medication. Tennessee brought in the most with a total of 27,320 pounds, followed by Kentucky with 14,300
pounds and West Virginia with 5,340 pounds.

“It’s a great number in the sense that we have a lot of participants, it’s also disappointing that we have that many unused and unwanted medications sitting in patients right now,” said Dr. Kevin Hamilton, Chief Medical Officer, with TriStar Health.

For years, TriStar Health has been active in helping curb the problem surrounding the opioid epidemic. Hosting several Drug Take Back Days, outside of the hospital, the HealthCare System has taken a firm stance in helping others who suffer from addiction.

“Of 100 patients who take narcotics, become addicted after one taste, and so if we can eliminate that one taste from any procedural injury, any kind of management for any kind of pain, then we’re going to reduce the opioid epidemic in general,” explained Dr. Hamilton.

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One of the ways the hospital is helping in the fight is by finding alternatives to treating pain by using medication that does not contain opioids. Another way is the HealthCare System uses electronic prescriptions that are sent straight from the hospital to the pharmacy, in an effort to make sure medicine stays in the right hands.

“It’s harder to forge a prescription, change a prescription. You’re less likely to lose a prescription if it’s already in the pharmacy. We don’t worry about doctors’ handwriting,” explained Dr. Hamilton.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that last year, more than 93,000 people died of drug overdoses in the United States, marking the largest number of drug-related deaths ever recorded in a year. Opioid-related deaths accounted for 75% of all overdose deaths in 2020.