CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — A look inside Tennessee’s medicine cabinet reveals that the Volunteer State is again No. 1 in its use of prescription drugs. That’s the finding of BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee’s latest health care industry report, “Inside Tennessee’s Medicine Cabinet,” which provides an overview of prescription use trends in the state as well as the consequences of that use.

In Tennessee prescription drug use stands at 17.3 prescriptions per person compared to the U.S. average of 11.3 prescriptions per capita. And when it comes to costs, Tennessee earns the nation’s No. 2 spot with $1,192 per capita on prescription drug spending. “It all adds up, but does it add up to better health?” observed Bill Cecil, health policy director for BlueCross. “For all our drug use and spending, Tennessee still ranks 47th in health status for its citizens.”

According to Cecil, appropriate prescription drug use has an enormous potential to add value and quality to life, yet criteria for appropriate use are needed to mitigate the myriad of health risks as well as maximize the benefits.

Each year, medication mistakes injure more than 1.5 million Americans as reported by the Institute of Medicine. These drug errors and prescription overuse can result in numerous adverse events like emergency room visits, antibiotic resistance, accidental poisonings, drug addictions and death.

Again, Tennessee lands near the top when it comes to the health consequence of its high prescription use rate. For example, the state stands 26 percent above the national average for accidental poisonings and has the highest portion of antibiotic resistant pneumococcal isolates among states examined by the Centers for Disease Control.

Along with the health risks comes a financial impact on the state. Costs for accidental poisonings in Tennessee alone totaled $593 million during 2003.

“The dangers that prescription overuse pose to our health and our wallets should cause concern for all Tennesseans,” said Terry Shea, director of pharmacy services for BlueCross. “Fortunately, the health care community is engaging in many collaborative efforts that explore mechanisms such as electronic health records and education to address our prescription drug problem.”

Cecil noted that the information in the report on Tennessee’s high prescription drug use is intended to raise awareness of the problem and start a dialogue among the health care industry and the patients that rely on its services.

The report is available online at www.bcbst.com under the News & Issues section.

About BlueCross

BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee's mission is to provide its customers and communities with peace of mind through affordable solutions for health and healing, life and living. Founded in 1945, the Chattanooga-based company is focused on reinventing the health plan for its 3 million members in Tennessee and across the country. Through its integrated health management approach, BlueCross provides patient-centric products and services that drive health improvement and positively impact health care quality and value. BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Inc. is an independent licensee of the BlueCross BlueShield Association. For more information, visit the company's website at www.bcbst.com.