In Tennessee, two legislators are taking action in attempt to address the augmenting opioid epidemic. Richard Briggs, a Tennessee Senator, and Matthew Hill, a member of the Tennessee House of Representatives, have proposed The Pilfering Prevention Act- an act intended to prevent addiction by requiring all Rx bottles to be secured with a combination lock. The idea is that by making pill bottles more difficult to open, it will impede the “source” of addiction long enough to to create a change in the next generation’s adolescent population while simultaneously distinguishing between “commonly prescribed drugs and highly-addictive and dangerous drugs”. In the words of Senator Briggs, “too often well-meaning Tennesseans are completely unaware of the highly addictive, and potentially lethal, prescriptions drugs sitting in the family medicine cabinet. This is where drug addiction starts, and often where accidental overdoses occur”.
If only it were that simple. Unfortunately, however, the opioid epidemic is not a result of pill bottles that are too easy to open. Simply restricting one source is not going to address the root of the issue. In fact, it is completely overlooking essential facets of what has allowed the opioid epidemic to transpire in the first place, and what has fostered is sustaining presence. This scourge is resultant of many aspects, with contributions from porous legislation, a medical system that minimizes and disregards the patient, distorted national security, stagnated cycles of systemic poverty and gaping holes in education on how to address and prevent Opioid Use Disorder (OUD) alike. The conceptual short-sighted-ness of the Pilfering Prevention Act, while rightfully aimed, wrongfully removes the human aspect of those who suffer with OUD and those who are at risk to begin abusing prescriptions. If Senator Briggs claims, as he does, “that citizens of [Tennessee] are accidentally overdosing because they don’t know how powerful the drugs are”, then why is the education of the so-called ignorant being completely overlooked in the address of this issue? Why are we putting menial barriers to limit prescriptions instead of implementing enduring support for those who rely on prescriptions?
I am not dismissing what this step opens up in regard to the potential of future legislation, its purpose in identifying and distinguishing between prescription drugs, nor its significance in continuing to raise public awareness of the opioid crisis. Preventative measures, particularly ones that incite such progress as this one, are a start (and a necessary one at that). I am merely asking that solutions be more comprehensive, that they consider the human factor in OUD. That, instead of just locking away drugs with a system that is far too easy to by-pass, we look to accompany restrictive Rx bottles with inclusive strategies that ponder the particular needs of users with OUD, Medicaid patients, those living in rural areas, those that receive high daily doses of opioids through their prescriptions, those that receive multiple prescriptions from varying providers and patients with other conditions that make them vulnerable to the misuse of opioids.