Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics Says Painkiller Abuse In State Is Epidemic

Thursday, January 6th 2011, 6:18 pm
By: News 9

Jon Jordan, News 9

OKLAHOMA CITY -- A new study by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health revealed more and more Oklahomans are addicted to painkillers.

Comparing the number of doses to Oklahoma's population size, Oklahomans are consuming more of the painkiller Hydrocodone than Californians.

Over the past decade the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics reported seeing a 78 percent increase in Oklahomans dying from drug overdoses, and in many cases because of painkillers.

Twenty-nine-year-old Keith Knox Simmons is known to the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics as the "state's top doctor shopper" after an investigation revealed Simmons had gone to nearly 200 healthcare professionals to get prescriptions for the highly addictive painkiller Hydrocodone.

Mark Woodward with the OBN said the agency is seeing more and more people like Simmons.

"That is an extreme case, but we do have a lot of Oklahomans going to 5, 10, 15 different doctors to feed an addiction," Woodward said.

The addiction for painkillers has become so large that the National Survey on Drug Use and Health found Oklahomans 12 and older exceeded the national average for the consumption of painkillers for non-medical use by 232 percent.

It's an appetite for drugs like Hydrocodone that has made the state's drug bureau now consider it an epidemic.

"When Oklahoma consumes as much or more than California and Texas, that's concerning," Woodward said.

Jessica Hawkins with the Prevention Services Director for the states Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services said the big problem isn't meth anymore, and that it's prescription drug abuse.

"Young people need to understand as well as adults that abusing prescription drugs is just as deadly if not more than other illicit drugs," Hawkins said. "This is beyond an emerging drug trend. It's here and it's affecting Oklahomans every day."

To make battling the prescription drug abuse problem harder, agencies like the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance abuse saw its budget last year cut by $25 million, which a large part was used to help treat people with addictions.

Because prescription drugs can be much easier to obtain than street drugs, health experts encourage parents to talk to their children about the dangers of abusing prescription drugs.