NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Tennessee has one of the highest rates of opioid prescriptions per person across the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

With the opioid epidemic surging on, pharmaceutical practices are evolving to keep up.

Pharmacists are often the last line of defense between you and potentially addictive and harmful painkillers.

Pharmacist and Lipscomb University Professor, Kam Nola has seen the opioid epidemic creep up gradually.

“We don’t want patients to be in pain, but there are times when getting to that zero level of pain is just not possible or feasible,” she said.

That’s where dangerous over-utilization and over-prescribing often comes into play.

“Limiting and being thoughtful around prescribing habits is extremely important,” said Nola.

Nola is responsible for arming future generations of pharmacists with the tools and knowledge to fight the opioid crisis.

“As sad as it is to say, I think a lot of us kind of grew into this situation,” said Lipscomb pharmacy student, Nick Hodge. “For us, it’s been like this since we’ve been in pharmacy school.”

In Manchester, Richard Randolph is a pharmacist at Marcrom’s Pharmacy. Randolph said getting leftover opioids out of your home is extremely important.

A drug drop-off program started by the Coffee County Anti-Drug Coalition has seen great success.

“‘Count it! Lock It! Drop it! is a way to help curb the opioid epidemic by getting the medicine out of the hands of the folks that don’t need to be using it,” said Randolph.

Marcrom’s was one of the first pharmacies in Tennessee to implement the program. “Count It! Lock It! Drop It!” is a community initiative supported by BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Health Foundation.

“Patients oftentimes will not use a complete prescription for opiates and it will sit around the home,” said Nola. “That is really a dangerous thing.”

In January of 2018, Walmart launched a similar program. The retail giant announced it would be the first national drug chain to offer free disposal of opioids at all of its pharmacy locations.

When filling a prescription, pharmacists are required to check the controlled substance monitoring database. Randolph said the system alerts pharmacists to possible red flags and helps ensure the opioids aren’t going to a potential criminal.

“If a patient got 90 opiates from one physician at one pharmacy, then they go to a different physician who doesn’t know about the first prescription, since it was reported to the database I’ve got access to what they got and what it was,” said Randolph. “That way I can say this doesn’t look right.”

Part of Governor Haslam’s $30 million plan to combat the opioid epidemic is limiting initial opioid prescriptions to a five-day supply with appropriate exceptions. This portion of the legislation has been a point of contention.

CVS Pharmacy announced in 2017 it will limit opioid prescriptions to seven days for certain conditions.

“There is legitimate pain out there,” said Rudolph. “It’s just that sometimes we do have limits of what we can fill for them.”

While thousands of Tennesseans still receive opioid prescriptions every day, Nola said the numbers are encouraging.

“From 2016 to 2017, Tennessee saw a decrease in the number of prescriptions for opiates by 2 million,” she said.

But there is still work to be done.