Oklahoma prescription database is tool to curb drug abuse

BY CARRIE COPPERNOLL ccoppernoll@opubco.com Published: July 5, 2011
Advertisement

“We would lick the coating off them that keeps them time-release and shoot them up like heroin,” she said.

She lost her job as a phlebotomist. Her addiction led to abusive relationships and the neglect of her son.

Gray doctor shopped, hopping from physician to physician, asking for medicine to relieve the pain of her deformed hips.

Doctors still have to look out for fraudsters — those patients who use maiden or middle names to avoid detection, said Dr. Hal Vorse, medical director of A Chance to Change and an expert in opiate dependency.

“If you continue to prescribe, then you become part of the problem,” Vorse said. “You become the dealer, not the doctor.”

The PMP is a helpful tool, Vorse said, and it prevents many unnecessary or illegal prescriptions.

Vorse uses it in his own practice to discover patients who relapsed and picked up narcotics from other doctors. His office detects about 10 to 15 relapsed patients a month.

“It's not just a criminal justice issue,” Vorse said. “If you can identify those folks and intervene, you can save their lives. They'll die of their addiction.”

Even after the PMP was expanded five years ago, Gray still was able to get what she craved. She said she believes her limp made her even more convincing.

Program doesn't

catch all addicts

Adding drugs to the Prescription Monitoring Program has been a huge success, said Weaver, the narcotics bureau director.

“There's no telling how many lives we've saved in intervention,” Weaver said.

Beginning Jan. 1, doctors will be asked to report prescriptions in real time, instead of within 24 hours. Weaver said he hopes the changes will mean even more progress and even more participating doctors. Law enforcement needs their help.

“Prescription drugs are killing more Oklahomans than any illicit drugs,” Weaver said. “We simply cannot arrest our way out of this.”

Gray managed to slide under the PMP radar because of her medical condition. In the process, she incurred a pair of DUIs, the second while driving with her son in the car.

But the hole she dug wasn't deep enough.

“At the end, my baby's playing in the floor and I'm in the bathroom with some guy and he's shooting me up,” she said. “That's how bad it got.”

It was an arrest — her third DUI — that changed things.

Gray was lucky enough to go to drug court, where she was sent to treatment instead of prison.

Now, she's been sober for more than three years. She has a job and lives with her father, sister and son, who is 9.

She doesn't take any painkillers for her hips for fear of a relapse, she said. She'll be eligible for hip replacement in two years, when she turns 30, but Gray hasn't decided whether she'll do it. She fears she may risk a relapse if she needs pain medicine after the surgery. For now, she'll keep her limp.

“The longer I wait,” she said, “the more stable I'll be in my recovery.”

Today, Gray is a different kind of mother. She takes her son to ballgames and to school.

She said she hopes the PMP will catch more addicts like her, even the ones with real medical conditions.

“Most addicts don't want to be the way they are,” she said. “They just haven't found the path leading out of it yet. You feel hopeless. You feel like there's no way out. But there is a way out.”