Tennessee Teens Abusing Drugs At Alarming Rates

By McCarton Ackerman 07/02/14

Adolescents in the Volunteer State are abusing drugs like heroin at double the national average.

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A new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that Tennessee teenagers are using heroin and shooting up other drugs at double the national average.

The findings, taken from a survey period between September 2012 and December 2013, also showed that the use of injectable drugs has risen dramatically over a five-year period. Perhaps most surprising is that in many cases, heroin was the first opiate the teens had used. Dr. Chapman Sledge, the chief medical officer of Cumberland Heights, said that heroin was so easy to obtain in Nashville that it was “like ordering pizza.”

Dr. Michael Warren with the Tennessee Department of Health said that the findings were “particularly concerning given the problems we are seeing in Tennessee with prescription drug abuse and downstream consequences like drug overdose and neonatal abstinence syndrome.” Nineteen percent of teenagers in the state also admitted to abusing prescription medication.

Experts who work with at-risk youth in the state have partially blamed the teen drug epidemic on slow recovery from the recession. Because parents have been forced to work several jobs and consequently snatched up employment opportunities, teenagers have been left with no supervision and plenty of free time. And as teenagers get older, they tend to get more confident in what they think they can handle.

That attitude increases the risk of teens engaging in behaviors that lead to serious injury or death. And when school is out, that risk escalates even more.

"Our trauma center goes from May to September," said Purnima Unni, an epidemiologist at Monroe Carroll Jr. Children's Hospital. "The reason is very simple. It is because school is out. When school is out, there is not much for them to do. They are getting into all these kinds of behaviors that can be troublesome."

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.