Opioid abuse has death grip on Tennessee

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NASHVILLE — The pregame pills took some of the pain out of Will Bell’s hard-hitting high school football games — but it wasn’t the linebacker’s name on the prescription.

Bell was getting opioid-based painkillers — sometimes for free, sometimes for a price — from a friend who suffered from a chronic disease.

“They made me feel good. I didn’t feel pain from tackling. I didn’t feel pain from lifting,” Bell said.

As his friend’s pain management regiment graduated from Vicodin to Percocet to hydrocodone to oxycodone, so did Bell’s. His use of the powerful drugs only escalated in college, where, aided by even better access to dealers, he descended into addiction.

Bell, now 26, eventually sought help and has found an “incredible” recovery community in Nashville; the North Carolina native has been clean for 14 months.

For many of the millions of Americans caught in the growing scourge of opioid abuse, the outcome is far worse. And few places have been hit harder than Tennessee.

The state said at least 1,263 Tennesseans died from opioid overdose in 2014, the most recent figure available and one that points to rampant abuse, misuse and addiction impacting millions of Tennesseans, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nationally, 47,055 people died, up 6.5% from 2013.

For every one person who dies there are 851 people in various stages of misuse, abuse and treatment, according to the CDC. That’s at least 1,074,813 Tennesseans, or 1 in 6.

More people died in 2014 from opioid overdose than in car accidents in Tennessee.

 

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