KNOXVILLE - New numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show opioid prescriptions across the nation are dropping.
But those numbers are still three times what they were in 1999.
Here in East Tennessee, doctors say the dosage per person for painkillers is among the highest in the country.
As of July 9, there have been 176 suspected opioid overdose deaths in Knox County alone.
UT Medical Center is working to cut back on prescription doses.
"For the longest time we were either number one or number two in the nation in the number of opioid prescriptions," said Chief Medical Officer of UT Medical Center Dr. Jerry Epps.
Epps said doctors have to play a role in reducing opioid prescriptions in Tennessee.
New data from the CDC pinpoints Knoxville and East Tennessee as a problem area.
Epps says the reason for that goes back decades, starting in the 1980s in two well-known medical journals.
"(It) really encouraged physicians to start writing opioid prescriptions at that time," said Epps.
Funding was also a factor with hospitals in the 2000s rated by how well they controlled patient pain.
Epps says another problem was the belief that short-term opioid prescriptions would not cause addiction.
"We are really making sure that our physicians are getting to the point that they really understand that short-term opioid prescription can actually lead to long-term addiction," said Epps.
Epps says mindsets are changing, and so is the prescription process.
"For example, if you were to say we normally take one to two pills every four to six hours as you need for seven days," said Epps. "Well what physicians don't do, is they didn't realize, was that most patients only take a fraction of those pain pills."
That leaves leftover pills, unused in the medicine cabinet.
"That's really the where source for people who become addicted to pain medication in Tennessee occurs," said Epps.
Epps wants doctors to contribute to a solution.
"Rather than giving them the maximum they can take, give them what they normally take, that is about half of that, so that there are fewer pills available out there to be abused," said Epps.
Epps says it's important to return unused prescription pills.
You can drop them off at the UT Medical Center pharmacy or the Knoxville Police Station.
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