Doctor shopping an ongoing problem in Tennessee - WSMV Channel 4

Doctor shopping an ongoing problem in Tennessee

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NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) -

Tennessee is in pain and the numbers show it.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ranks Tennessee second in the nation with the highest number of prescriptions written for painkillers.

But not everyone is getting that medicine just to kill pain.

A Channel 4 I-Team investigation uncovered startling numbers that show just how many people are trying to cheat the system.

The numbers the I-Team uncovered show how many people are doctor shopping and why one man who used to do it said it has become such a crisis.

It’s where people go in an emergency, but for Josh Bennett, it's where he went for a fix. You name it, he craved it.

"Percocet, Vicodin and Oxycontin,” Bennett said.

When the self-described addict couldn't buy the pills on the street, he headed to one emergency room after another.

"They would give you something like ibuprofen, a non-narcotic pain reliever, and you'd walk out and throw the prescription away and wait a week or a couple days to go to the next hospital,” Bennett said.

While Bennett was never busted for doctor shopping, the I-Team found hundreds of people in Tennessee who have been.

In 2013, 129 people were convicted of doctor shopping in Tennessee. In 2014, that number dropped slightly to 112. And last year, 81 people were convicted of the crime.

"Just a couple days ago I saw an individual who had been in four major cities in Tennessee in 10-day period,” said Dr. Ian Jones, executive medical director of emergency services at Vanderbilt.

The number of people being convicted of doctor shopping in Tennessee over the last four years is actually going down, but the state is still ranked second in the nation when it comes to prescribing pain medicine.

Jones said it’s all because of a computer database called the Controlled Substance Monitoring Database.

In 2013, state law mandated that doctors look at how often someone has asked for narcotics before they write another prescription. Jones said word is getting out.

“Back in 2013 you didn't have any way of knowing where anyone else had been,” Jones said.

Bennett, who's now sober and works as a life coach helping other addicts, said as long as Tennessee has a real addiction to pain medicine there will be people who show up to the ER with all kinds of phantom injuries.

“You have to lie to yourself first. Then you make the lie so real that when you get there it seems like you're telling the truth,” Bennett said.

The I-Team wanted to know how much the Controlled Substance Monitoring Database costs and who pays for it. We learned it's paid for using the money from licensing fees from physicians and costs about $300,000 a year to operate it.

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