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Drug Abuse Prevention Advocates Applaud Tennessee Lawmakers’ Support of “Pilfering Prevention Act”

Members of “Secure Tennessee’s Opioid Prescriptions (STOP)” Coalition join Senator Richard Briggs and Representative Matthew Hill in support of legislation requiring dangerous prescription drugs be dispensed in lockable vials

Nashville, Tenn. (February 4, 2019) – Drug addiction specialists, medical professionals, and parents who lost a child due to drugs, all part of a statewide coalition called “STOP – Secure Tennessee’s Opioid Prescriptions,” joined Senator Richard Briggs (R-Knoxville) and Representative Matthew Hill (R-Jonesborough) at a press conference today announcing SB 475 / HB 364, known as the “Pilfering Prevention Act.” The East Tennessee lawmakers are the primary sponsors of the bill, which would require certain dangerous prescription drugs – such as opioids, stimulants and benzodiazepines – be dispensed in lockable containers.

“Too often well-meaning Tennesseans are completely unaware of the highly addictive, and potentially lethal, prescriptions drugs sitting in the family medicine cabinet,” said Sen. Briggs. “This is where drug addiction starts, and often where accidental overdoses occur. These drugs are being manufactured and prescribed in record numbers, and so it shouldn’t be a surprise that drug-related deaths are at an all-time high in Tennessee. We must explore every tool to combat this epidemic, and my bill is a practical and important step in the right direction.”

The most recent data from the Tennessee Department of Health show 1,776 Tennesseans died from drug overdoses in 2017, the highest annual number of such deaths ever recorded. The research showed that prescription opioids are the most common drugs associated with overdose deaths in Tennessee.

“Currently there is little distinction between the way commonly-prescribed drugs and highly-addictive and dangerous drugs are dispensed in Tennessee,” said Rep. Hill. “If we’re going to be serious about addressing our obvious prescription drug problem in Tennessee, we have to implement safeguards that differentiate certain dangerous prescriptions and divert the possibility of abuse. That’s what my bill aims to do.”

Pilfering, or stealing a few pills at a time, is the number one source for teenage drug abuse nationally and in Tennessee. Statistics show that 80 percent of heroin users started with a prescription opioid, and 90 percent of abusers started as teenagers.

Betty Mason, who lost her daughter Katy to an overdose in 2016, attests to the dangers families face with readily available prescription opioids in the home.

“No person ever wakes up one day and decides to suddenly start using heroin,” said Mason. “That path almost always starts in the home with prescription drugs. There are far too many parents who share my grief, and missed any warning signs of drug abuse before it was too late. This bill creates a critical diversion tool that sounds the alarm when a young person attempts to take these pills. It allows parents to stop addiction before it starts, and address underlying problems that often lead to drug use.”

Public health experts from both Johns Hopkins University and Yale have identified outdated packaging standards as a key contributor to opioid-related deaths in children and teenagers. In its 2017 report “The Opioid Epidemic: From Evidence to Impact,” Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health included updated packaging technologies, such as lockable vials, as one of ten recommendations to combat the nation’s opioid epidemic. Vanderbilt’s Dr. Sterling Haring, who participated on the report’s writing committee, strongly supports Sen. Briggs’ and Rep. Hill’s legislation.

“Current ‘childproof’ prescription medication bottles, implemented 50 years ago, were designed to prevent toddlers from accidentally ingesting prescription medications,” said Haring. “Today, we’re facing a much more serious risk with the rise of powerful prescription opioids and other addictive drugs. In adopting this bill, our state lawmakers will set a critically important precedent that would save tens of thousands of lives over ensuing decades. I applaud Senator Briggs and Representative Hill for their leadership on this legislation that will surely have a positive impact in Tennessee’s battle against opioids.”

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