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ERs Battle Opioid Crisis; Say No to Narcotics for Patients Faking Injuries

NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) - Emergency room doctors say the opioid crisis isn’t getting any better, especially in Tennessee.

Emergency rooms are supposed to be prepared for emergencies, but some doctors say they are seeing more and more people coming in faking pain just to get their hands on narcotics.

At Saint Thomas Midtown Hospital, empty beds are meant for people who have real emergencies. In some cases, it may be someone who only has minutes to survive without help.

But ask some doctors in the emergency room and they'll say many times the people coming in are drug addicts.

"Specifically at Saint Thomas we don't have the ability to admit someone for opiate withdrawal,” said Dr. Ali Bollinger, chief of emergency medicine at Saint Thomas Midtown.

Bollinger said many times it’s the ones they’d least expect.

“I have had grandmothers, great-grandmothers, soccer moms and CEOs,” Bollinger said.

She said they’re all coming in addicted to narcotics and looking for help.

“We are seeing more and more patients that recognize their problem, want to get help. And there are very limited resources for them, especially for the uninsured,” Bollinger said.

Doctors also say some come in faking pain just to see how many narcotics they can get. It’s a problem not only at Saint Thomas but also at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

“This is a crisis, an epidemic, an emergency,” said Dr. Andrews Pfeffer, an assistant professor of emergency medicine.

It’s an emergency Pfeffer said is getting worse.

During an eight-hour shift at Vanderbilt, Pfeffer said he sees 12 to 15 people either looking to get their hands on whatever narcotic he'll prescribe them or looking for help to get better.

"Addiction and the abuse of these drugs can happen to anyone at any time,” Pfeffer said.

Doctors say people come in mostly looking for pills, including oxycodone, hydrocodone and Percocet.

But Special Agent Tommy Farmer with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigations said their biggest battle is with fentanyl, a powerful synthetic drug similar to morphine.

“We have to slow down the way we prescribe, the way we address and look at pain, and we have to change the entire culture,” Farmer said.

But he said doing that isn’t going to be easy. Whether it’s a hospital or on the street, Farmer said addicts are mixing these drugs together, making them more dangerous than they already are.

“It's Russian roulette. It’s not a matter of if, it's a matter of when. You’re going to overdose yourself if you do this, if you do this out there,” Farmer said.

"We want to do what we can to get better but we need the resources. We need the funding in order to make that happen,” Pfeffer added.

Doctors say there is a growing need for more treatment options, better trained providers and more available funding to help battle this ongoing crisis.

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