Oklahoma One Of Many States Working To Fight Prescription Drug Abuse
At one time Oklahoma ranked number one in prescription drug abuse. After implementation of a statewide prescription drug monitoring program (PDMP) and the concerted efforts of lawmakers and law enforcement the state has moved down the list to number eight in the nation. But Oklahoma is not satisfied and continues to try and overcome the scourge of prescription drug abuse.
How Big Is The Prescription Drug Problem?
Last year in Oklahoma doctors and medical professionals wrote 10 million prescriptions for powerful opioid painkillers and other scheduled drugs. Those prescriptions were written to 142,369 patients, which averages out to 68 prescriptions per patient. Pharmacists filled those prescriptions with 597 million pills.
The detailed information is available thanks to the state’s PDMP, which electronically records the data. The hope is that doctors would look online before writing a prescription to see how often each patient has been given a script for heavy-duty medication. But reviewing the data it became evident that few doctors, just one-fourth, were using the PDMP prior to writing prescriptions for patients. Doctors are not yet legally required to check the PDMP first, but that could change.
Death Toll Rising
In 2012 there were 844 fatal overdoses in Oklahoma. That means that year more people died from drugs than were killed in car crashes, at 708. The majority of drug overdoses were accidental, and 75 percent involved prescription drugs.
The most dangerous prescription drugs in terms of overdose risk are opioids (e.g.: Vicodin, Lortab, OxyContin, Percocet), and the anti-anxiety medication Xanax. Too often people mix medications with alcohol, or take multiple meds at the same time. The stats show that two people per day are dying in Oklahoma because of prescription drug overdose. Deaths related to prescription drugs have risen 80 percent there in the past 10 years, and Oxycodone and Hydrocodone deaths in the state have quadrupled in that time.
The problem is most acute among 18- to 25-year-olds with a 10.9 percent abuse rate. Overall, 5.2 percent of Oklahomans over age 11 abuse the medications. Apart from the risk of fatal overdose, another concern about the epidemic of opioid abuse is where it tends to take people. Experts in the state say that around 85 percent of heroin users started out abusing prescription opioids.
Oklahoma is not unique. Across the country abuse of prescription drugs continues to claim a shockingly high number of lives. And where opioid use is beginning to drop, there is the selfsame increase in heroin use. Which makes it that much more important that we stop the problem before it moves to the street. We can monitor and prevent much prescription drug abuse through PDMPs. If we don’t, the problem will quickly transition to street drugs like heroin where monitoring and intervention is far less likely.