New Law Restricts Amount of Some Powerful Drugs That Can be Dispensed in Tennessee

Friday, October 11, 2013 | 04:20am

NASHVILLE – Effective this month, under a new Tennessee law, prescriptions for opioid pain medicines and benzodiazepine medicines may not be dispensed in Tennessee in quantities exceeding a 30-day supply. The new limits apply to all dispensers of these medications, including pharmacies, dispensaries and mail-order programs located either in or out of Tennessee.

“The law to limit the dispensing of some medications, which went into effect Oct. 1, is part of a statewide effort to reduce problems associated with misuse of these powerful drugs,” said TDH Chief Medical Officer David Reagan, MD, PhD. “It has potential to reduce the quantities of these medications available for abuse or overdose.”

The dispensing limits law is the second major initiative started this year to impact drug misuse.  In April, medical professionals in Tennessee were required to start checking the Controlled Substance Monitoring Database before prescribing in most cases. The database is designed to help ensure the best prescribing decisions are made for every patient, resulting in fewer people becoming dependent on pain medicines.

“Dependence or addiction to prescription medicines is a serious behavioral health condition, but it is also treatable,” said E. Douglas Varney, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. “Tennessee residents who need help with a drug problem may call the Tennessee REDLINE at 1-800-889-9789 or go online to to learn about treatment and recovery services available in their area. If you are unclear if your medication may be impacted by this new law, please speak with your prescriber or pharmacist for additional details.” 

The new limit on the amount of certain drugs that can be dispensed was established by state law Public Chapter 430, Section 4, Tennessee Code Annotated, Section 53-11-308(e). Examples of opioids and benzodiazepines which are now limited include: 


Generic Name                       Trade Name

hydrocodone                           Lortab®


morphine                                 MS Contin®

oxycodone                              Oxycontin®, Percocet®

hydromorphone                      Exalgo®

oxymorphone                          Opana®



alprazolam                              Xanax®

diazepam                                Valium®

lorazepam                               Ativan® 


The above list is provided as an example; other drugs are also impacted by the new law. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency has placed the affected powerful drugs into Schedules II, III, IV or V according to their potential risk for abuse and addiction. Those different schedule levels impact prescription as follows:

  • Prescriptions for medicines in Schedules III, IV or V which have been written for greater than a 30-day supply may be filled, refilled or partially filled in 30-day increments, for up to a six-month period.
  • Current DEA law does not permit refilling of Schedule II prescription medicines; therefore, all Schedule II prescriptions for opioid prescription pain medicines may not be dispensed in quantities greater than a 30-day supply. Each 30-day supply of a Schedule II opioid prescription pain medicine requires a new prescription.


The mission of the Tennessee Department of Health is to protect, promote and improve the health and prosperity of people in Tennessee. For more information about TDH services and programs, visit

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