CHATTANOOGA, TN. (WDEF-TV) - If Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam has his way, there will be many ways to deal with prescription drug abuse, instead of sending people to jail.
He and the Commission for Mental Health and Substance Abuse have launched a seven-step, multi-year program that's focused on treatment.
GOV. BILL HASLAM, TENNESSEE "We have a problem with prescription drug abuse in Tennessee. About, almost 5% of our adult population..about 221-thousand adult Tennesseans in the last year have used a prescription drug for non-medical purposes...that's one out of every 20 that abused that."
Prescription drugs have now become the number one problem for the state substance abuse department. It surpassed alcohol last year for the first time.
The program pushed by the governor is being well received by the medical community, which is changing the way it prescribes and uses such medication.
RAE BOND, EXEC. DIR., HAMILTON CO. MEDICAL SOCIETY "I think the medical profession has really moved-forward in a really important way. We've very supportive of the governor's efforts and its continuing the work we've already been doing with the administration."
ALIX MICHELL, ATTORNEY, MEDICAL EXPERT "Right now what this plan is going to do is get people thinking treatment. And that's really more important than incarceration...which used to be the old model. And it hasn't worked."
Alix Michell and his partner Dave Ward are taking the message to the community.
DAVE WARD, ATTORNEY, MEDICAL EXPERT "We along with Florida and a couple of the other states ..We have one of the biggest problems." "I think its estimated, we have 69-thousand people who are addicted in this state."
Michell says its been an epidemic for 20 years.
ALIX MICHELL "They marketed it in a way where they said to the doctor..its not going to get people addicted. Wrong! "
That new program is just getting underway, and its expected to impact every part of the state in the next few months.
That program is also set up to deal with so-called "pill mills" ...and with young people who now a big part of the prescription drug abuse problem.