New Oklahoma law targets prescription drug overdose epidemic

A new requirement will require the Oklahoma medical examiner to report the names of prescription drug overdose victims to the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs.
by Phillip O'Connor Published: May 14, 2014
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photo - Prescription drug package, Alprazolam (Xanax), Wednesday, March 26, 2014. Photo by Doug Hoke, The Oklahoman
Prescription drug package, Alprazolam (Xanax), Wednesday, March 26, 2014. Photo by Doug Hoke, The Oklahoman

The Oklahoma medical examiner will begin directly reporting the names of overdose victims to the state narcotics agency, which will then use the data to more closely track the state’s prescription drug problem.

The new requirement, part of a bill signed Tuesday by Gov. Mary Fallin, could also be used to identify problem prescribers.

“It gets more specific information to (the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs) to more target its investigation,” said Steve Mullins, general counsel to Fallin.

A failure of state agencies to promptly share information about overdose victims and to trace the prescribers of drugs that result in overdose deaths was among several findings of an investigation earlier this year by The Oklahoman and Oklahoma Watch. The investigation identified troubling gaps in the state’s system for combating an epidemic that has seen Oklahoma surge to near the top of national rankings for prescription drug abuse and overdose deaths.

In 2012, unintentional prescription drug overdoses claimed the lives of 534 Oklahomans. State health authorities say about half of them had taken drugs prescribed by their doctors.

The new law, requested by the medical examiner’s office and supported by Fallin, also requires the medical examiner to determine whether drugs were the primary cause of death in such cases. Sen. Rob Standridge, R-Norman, who co-sponsored Senate Bill 1183, said he asked for the provision to clarify what role alcohol, pre-existing health conditions or other factors may have played in the death..

“Before we implicate it is the drugs that caused it, let’s know the drugs caused it,” he said. “I think it’s such a big issue; I think we need to be armed with all the facts.”

The new reporting law, which takes effect Nov. 1, is part of an overall prescription drug abuse prevention plan that Fallin has pushed during the last two legislative sessions. The cornerstone of that program — a measure that would require doctors to check their patients’ drug histories before writing new prescriptions for controlled dangerous substances such as oxycodone and hydrocodone — remains stalled while lawmakers wrangle over its provisions.

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by Phillip O'Connor
Enterprise Editor
O'Connor joined the Oklahoman staff in June, 2012 after working at The Kansas City Star and St. Louis Post-Dispatch for a combined 28 years. O'Connor, an Oklahoma City resident, is a graduate of Kansas State University. He has written frequently...
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