KINGSTON (WATE) - It's an addiction that's posing a statewide danger to public health, public safety and the economy.
"Tennessee ranks second in the country behind West Virginia in prescription pill abuse. Tennesseans average 17 prescriptions a year compared to the national average of nearly 12," said Gov. Bill Haslam when he spoke about the alarming reality during his State of the State address in January.
Fighting the epidemic is a priority for lawmakers and law enforcement. "I think it touches every family, one way or another," said Roane County Sheriff Jack Stockton.
He speaks from personal experience. His son, Toby Stockton, now 30, got hooked on pills in his early 20s.
"Not knowing where he was at or who he was with, those things started happening then birthdays, holidays, things families celebrate together all vanished," Stockton said.
At home, Stockton was engaged in a struggle against the same thing he was fighting against as a sheriff.
As a father, he was hurting. "We were always fearful getting that dreadful call that he had overdosed, something that's really scary, many sleepless nights," Stockton said.
At first, the sheriff said he was angry with his son.
"He knew how I hate that kind of behavior and how hard I've worked in my career for the past 28 years trying to combat those types of activities in the streets, and he falls into the same trap with everybody else it was a shock to me," Stockton said.
The sheriff believes more needs to be done to make it harder for addicts to get prescription pills.
State Sen. Ken Yager (R-Harriman) agrees. He sponsored a bill last year requiring pain clinics to prove they are legitimate. Now you can find a list of approved pain clinics on the Tennessee Health Department website.
"When I did the bill last year to tighten up and shut down these illegal pill mills dotting Tennessee's landscape, I got more calls on that than anything that I've done in the Legislature," Yager said.
Sen. Yager is working closely with the governor this year to push for more regulation. Now they want doctors and pharmacists to check a statewide database before they write or dispense drugs like hydrocodone and oxycodone.
They also want medical professionals to make a note in the database within 24 hours of what they gave out and who they gave it to.
A multi-year comprehensive crime package proposed by Gov. Haslam could also allow law enforcement to see the database in certain cases approved by a committee.
Many in law enforcement say it's not a solution to the epidemic, but it's a good start. Sheriff Stockton says it was his son's time in jail that helped him sober up.
"He knew not to call because he knew I wasn't going to get him out of those situations, and he did spend some time in jail," Stockton said.
After going to a faith-based rehab center, the sheriff says his son has been clean for months and is now working full time.
But Stockton admits, there's always that small fear his son could relapse. "That's what's really hard to deal with sometimes, that it could happen tomorrow," he said.
As a father, he's impressed with his son's recovery so far. As a sheriff, he says he has a better understanding of addicts now.
"It makes me look at them more as individuals and persons than I've ever done before and realize that it can happen to anybody. People make mistakes," Stockton said.
6 News was unable to sit down with Toby Stockton due to his busy work schedule, but Sheriff Stockton says his son continues to do well. The sheriff hopes his story will help others in the community.
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