The state is facing what the attorney general calls an "opioid epidemic."
Tuesday, a newly formed commission met to address the statewide issue, and the numbers are staggering.
• Oklahoma ranks No. 1 nationally for nonmedical use of painkillers for all age groups 12 and older in the past year.
• However, Oklahoma saw the 2nd largest decrease nationally in opioid prescribing from 2013-2015 – down 18% – and was one of only 12 states to see a decrease in the rate of drug overdose deaths (9%) from 2013-2014.
• Still, Oklahoma had the 10th highest drug overdose death rate in the nation in 2014.
• Of the more than 3,500 unintentional poisoning deaths in Oklahoma from 2010-2014, 74% involved at least one prescription drug.
• Opioids are the most common class of drug involved in overdose deaths in Oklahoma (85% of prescription drug-related overdose deaths; 427 deaths in 2014).
• The most common prescription drugs involved in unintentional overdose deaths are hydrocodone, oxycodone and alprazolam (Xanax).
• In Oklahoma, more overdose deaths involved hydrocodone or oxycodone than methamphetamines, heroin and cocaine combined.
“Annually we're talking about hundreds of thousands of pills that are prescribed,” said Dr. Kevin Taubman of the Oklahoma State Medical Association, “Many of them certainly legally and for good intent, but the issue that we're dealing with today is to try to help guide us from the level where there's patient harm."
That happens when patients become addicted, often leading them to more dangerous drugs like heroin, according to experts.
"They start out with medications like this and it evolves into more illicit and equally if not more dangerous substances," Dr. Taubman said.
The commission will discuss better practices for physicians, how to get more resources for battling addiction, and better addiction education for all Oklahomans.
"It really is a multi-faceted challenge and it's gotta be a multi-faceted set of solutions,” said state Attorney General Mike Hunter. “We've got to deal with prevention. We've got to deal with education. There's got to be a commitment to law enforcement, and we've got to have more treatment options."
Experts say simply reducing the number of prescriptions is not the answer.
"That would lead to further harm, potentially even death in some cases because they would turn to other substances as we've already seen in other states throughout the country, Ohio being a good example, where the heroin epidemics are just untold now," Dr. Taubman said.