Over the last 30 years, Sunbeam Family Services Counselor David Swope said he’s seen every kind of addict but recently he's been seeing a rise in the abuse of prescription drugs, specifically opioids.
“Sometimes they get into it because they've had a surgery or an illness and they find that they like how it feels and they continue on with it so that's an innocent way they may get into it,” he said.
But for thousands of Oklahomans, an innocent prescription can turn dangerous and even deadly. According to the CDC, Oklahoma ranks 10th in overdoses and nationwide opioid addiction kills as many as 40 people each day.
“They can be a highly addictive drug for all people. The problem is no one really knows if they're in that addiction risk pool,” said Swope.
But new guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention mean big changes for doctors. Once the top choice for pain relief, the CDC is now telling doctors medications like oxycodone, Percocet or morphine should only be used when absolutely necessary, saying patients should opt for things like ice Tylenol or ibuprofen first.
But not everyone is so sure these new guidelines will work. Pain specialists like Dr. Stephen Wilson with the Oklahoma Pain Society said the rules will only get in the way of treating patients.
“It could be a nightmare,” Wilson said. “It's what happens when you let the government get too involved and it's overly stringent and it's not really practical in clinical terms for most pain physicians,” said Dr. Wilson.
But for Swope the new rules mean saving lives.
“It's very important to see this as an epidemic, not to deny it and to recognize it,” he said.