State expecting record number of drug deaths
Drug-related deaths in the state of Oklahoma are predicted to hit a record high this year, according to the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs.
In 2008, there was a record 612 drug-related deaths in Oklahoma. Current autopsy reports show that drug-related deaths are at an all-time high early in the year.
Mark Woodward, bureau spokesman, said the number of drug-related deaths is expected to surpass those in 2008.
“We are predicting the numbers to be between 650 and 700 deaths involving drugs this year,” Woodward said. “One of the reasons for this increase in drug-related deaths is the growing problem of prescription drug abuse.”
The most abused prescription drugs are used for pain and anxiety such as Hydrocodone, Oxycodone and Xanax, Woodward said.
Prescription drugs accounted for 87 percent of all drug-related deaths in Oklahoma. Prescription drug’s easy accessibility has contributed to higher numbers of drug-related deaths, he said.
“Prescription drugs are very easy to get because they are legal,” Woodward said. “Many people that abuse drugs, such as cocaine or heroin, have switched to prescription drugs because it is easier to access and they think there is less risk involved. The easier the drugs are to get, the more deaths there will be associated with them.”
The problem of prescription drug abuse not only affects those being prescribed pain and anxiety medication, said Tiffany Couch, Norman Addiction Information and Counseling Center spokeswoman.
“There is a growing problem of high school and college students abusing prescription drugs,” Couch said. “It’s so easy for kids to reach into their parents medicine cabinets and experiment with whatever they can find.”
According to the 2008 Oklahoma Prevention Needs Assessment, 34 percent of high school seniors in the state have used prescription drugs recreationally compared to the national average of 23 percent.
Prescription drugs such as Adderall are often popular among college students trying to cope with their busy study schedules, Couch said.
“Anything that helps someone stay awake like Adderall is used often by college students,” Couch said. “Many don’t see Adderall as a dangerous drug. It is an amphetamine and a stimulant that speeds up the heart rate. It is very possible to overdose.”
Steps are being taken to combat the increase of prescription drug abuse. The Prescription Monitoring Program, which was originally started by the bureau in 1990, allows doctors to see electronic records of all medicine that has ever been prescribed to a patient.
Woodward said the program is helpful for doctors trying to assess whether the patient truly needs the medication or if they are just fishing for more pain pills.
“Many people try to go to multiple doctors in order to get more prescription medication,” Woodward said. “The Prescription Monitoring Program is not all about catching people and calling the police.
“It’s an intervention tool more than anything. We want the doctor to be able to sit down with the patient if they have a problem and offer them treatment options before it gets worse.”
In an effort to educate the public about prescription drug abuse, the bureau is sponsoring Prescription Drug Abuse Awareness Week, which began Monday.
Woodward said he hopes this week will educate more people about the dangers of prescription drugs.
“The public severely lacks education when it comes to prescription drugs,” Woodward said. “I believe that many deaths could be prevented if people knew how dangerous they are.”
Couch said awareness in the community is an important step in solving the problem.
“Education and awareness about this growing problem is the only way to begin fixing it,” Couch said. “If we can continue to bring communities together to understand the scope of the problem, we can make significant progress.”