TBI Special Agent warns citizens of rising opioid abuse rates
By Logan Watson
As Michael Stipe sang in 1992, “everybody hurts sometimes.” But what happens when you stop hurting?
“One of the developing problems in our country is that we are continuing to take prescription drugs after they’re no longer needed,” TBI Special Agent Thomas Farmer told a group of education and community leaders gathered in the Hawkins-Whitby FEMA building last Tuesday night. Special Agent Farmer, was the keynote speaker at the Milan Prevention Coalition’s Town Hall Health Summit. With 18 years of experience in drug enforcement, Farmer, the Director of the Tennessee Dangerous Drug Task Force, stated that prescription drug abuse was the fastest growing drug problem in not only the state, but in the country.
“We’ve become our own worst enemy,” Farmer told the group. As he explained, the rise of prescription drug abuse is a cultural problem that falls directly at the feet of the American public. “The ‘War on Drugs’ ended a long time ago. The problem didn’t start in Washington, D.C., and it won’t end there. It will begin and end here at home.”
According to Farmer, Tennessee has the second highest rate of accidental deaths
due to prescription medications in the nation, with 38,329 unintentional overdoses in 2010, translating roughly to one death every 14 minutes. In the years since, that number has only increased, with approximately 75 percent of those deaths caused by opioids.
“Since we’ve been here tonight, two people have already died because of an opioid overdose,” Farmer said, gravely. “The root of the problem is that we’re writing too many prescriptions. This is a cultural problem. We should not need that many prescriptions to deal with pain.”
According to Farmer, the American public has become over-medicated. Marketing pills for every pseudo-disorder has convinced Americans that even the most benign personality quirk needs to be treated with a prescription for a heavy narcotic, which, in turn, has flooded the homes of America with a smorgasbord of uppers and downers. Disobedient or hyperactive children need Ritalin or Adderall; stressed adults need Xanax; pain levels for even the most routine procedure require Oxycontin. Supply and demand for opioid painkillers has increased to the point that America, which houses only 4.4 percent of the world’s population, consumes 99.3 percent of the world’s yearly opium production.
“We’ve already lost an entire generation to addiction,” said Farmer. “We’re working on saving the next generation now. We have to tell kids that just because these things come from the doctor doesn’t mean that they need to take them or that they’re safe.”
“This is a very critical issue for our community,” said Joe Albright, Chairman of the Milan Prevention Coalition. “We have to get a handle on prescription drug abuse. If we don’t do it now, it’s going to affect our children and our community for the rest of our lives.
Albright told the group of concerned citizens that one of the easiest things they could do to keep prescription drugs out of the hands of children is to make sure unused medications are properly disposed of. By taking unused painkillers, stimulants and anti-anxiety medications to Take-Back Boxes like the one located at the Milan Police Department, they can be taken out of circulation. Albright also encouraged everyone to secure their medications in lockboxes rather than leave them in medicine cabinets where anyone could access them.
“When people, teens or adults, come to your home and use the restroom, they’re going to snoop through your medicine cabinet,” Farmer agreed. “It’s just too tempting.” Farmer also added that it was important to quickly dispose of medications when a family member succumbs to a terminal illness like cancer. Many cancer patients who have been in hospice care usually have significant amounts of pain medication on hand, such as morphine, making their homes prime targets for thieves. According to Farmer, drug users routinely check through the obituary sections of newspapers to look for homes that would likely have large amounts of powerful drugs, waiting until the family members are away at the funeral to steal the deceased’s unused medication.
“It’s really encouraging to someone in my line of work to see a community coming together to try to combat these problems,” said James Brockman, a former drug addict who now operates the Tennessee Valley Teen Challenge, a faith-based abstinence treatment program based in Savannah. Boasting a 72 percent rate, Teen Challenge has recently opened an outpatient program called Lifeline at the Vineyard Church here in Milan. “A lot of the addicts we treat are just looking for love in the wrong places. They’re looking for their purpose in life, and we try to help them find that love and purpose through Jesus.”
“People often think of law enforcement as the tip of the spear in the war on drugs,” said Farmer, “but when you’re fighting a social ill like drug abuse, the police are the last line of defense. It’s programs like the Prevention Coalition and treatment facilities that are on the front lines fighting to make a difference in their community.”