Oklahoma prescription database is tool to curb drug abuse

BY CARRIE COPPERNOLL ccoppernoll@opubco.com Published: July 5, 2011
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Lea Gray remembers the first time she got high.

She was 15. She swallowed a fat, white, doctor-prescribed Lortab in her bathroom at home. Then, while sipping out of the water fountain at school, life changed.

“It was like a wave from the top of my head to my feet, like a euphoria,” she said. “I was like, ‘Wow, this is a miracle.'”

She didn't feel anything — not the pain of her deformed hips, not the fears of inadequacy, not the insecurity of being different.

“I didn't care what people thought of me,” she said. “That stuff didn't bother me anymore because I was high.”

Five years ago July 1, the state began requiring doctors to report any time they prescribe from a laundry list of narcotics.

The goal was to stop doctor-shopping addicts like Gray.

Officials said the program is working, and three out of four Oklahoma doctors are using the Prescription Monitoring Program run by the state Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control

But the prescription database, known as the PMP, doesn't stop all addicts.

The narcotics bureau estimates Oklahoma is home to 100,000 prescription drug addicts, Director Darrell Weaver said.

“For so many, they're just consuming a vast quantity of prescription drugs,” Weaver said. “And it's resulting in more deaths. ... How bad would it have been if we didn't have the Prescription Monitoring Program?”

Drug overdose deaths went from 309 in 2006 to 356 in 2009, according to the most recent data available from the state medical examiner.

Abuse can start

with real pain

Many people start taking prescription pain medicine for legitimate reasons, said Jo Ann Pearce, executive director of A Chance to Change, a nonprofit dedicated to helping those who suffer from a variety of addictions.

“Even people who become prescription drug addicts themselves don't see it the same as an illegal drug,” Pearce said. “It's prescribed by a doctor.”

That was the excuse Gray told herself for years, she said.

Gray, now 28, was born with dislocated, deformed hips. She had 10 surgeries before she could walk at age 6. She walks with a pronounced limp.

“I don't have any cartilage, so it's just bone,” she said. “It hurts all the time. That's how I became a pillhead.”

After her first Lortab, Gray didn't go without pain pills until the day she got sober — Feb. 16, 2008. At first, she didn't know she was getting high. Gray was only in junior high.

But the longer she took the medicine, the more she craved it.

“Your tolerance builds up over the years,” said Gray, who lives in Hollis. “Eventually, you can't take enough. One's too many, and a thousand's never enough.”

Database designed to stop doctor shopping

In 2006, the state narcotics bureau pumped up its Prescription Monitoring Program.

Before, doctors only had to report Schedule II controlled substances, such as morphine and OxyContin. Starting July 1 of that year, doctors had to report Schedules II, III, IV and V, which included a variety of drugs, from Valium to Xanax.

That year, Gray was in the throes of addiction.

What started as prescribed Lortab turned to more drugs, like OxyContin shot into her veins with a needle.

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