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Opioid-Related Deaths, Cases of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome Increasing in Tennessee

KNOXVILLE (WATE) – Tennessee is making progress in the fight against the opioid abuse, but is it enough?

A new study by the Sycamore Foundation looked at indicators of progress in the fight against the the opioid epidemic. While Tennessee has made significant progress in reducing opioid prescriptions and dispensing in recent years, the study found that has not translated in a reduction of opioid related hospitalizations, deaths or neonatal abstinence syndrome.

Opioid and heroin related hospitalizations have increased by 72 percent and neonatal abstinence syndrome cases have increased by 57 percent since 2011, according to the study. Also, all opioid overdose deaths in Tennessee, which includes heroin and methadone, have increased by 44 percent according to the CDC.

Authors of the study say that as prescription opioids get harder to find, the demand remains and some users switch to heroin for availability and lower cost. They also found another trend is strong synthetics like fentanyl, which might even be mixed with heroin without users knowing.

Researchers say Tennessee opioid prescriptions peaked in 2012 for the number of prescriptions and amounts prescribed. That year state lawmakers passed a new prescription safety law and there was increased emphasis on shutting down pill mills.

Since then, the study finds opioid prescription numbers and amounts have gone down by 12 and 22 percent from that peak. Also, the number of Tennesseans reporting non-medical use of painkillers has gone down 22 percent.

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