Oklahoma leads the nation in painkiller abuse and related deaths, experts say, and the risk is especially high among the white and American Indian populations.
To address what many health professionals are calling an epidemic, the Absentee Shawnee Counseling Services hosted last month a tribal forum on painkiller addiction. The forum included guest speakers from the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.
“The purpose of the event is to help tribes develop a community response to the painkiller addiction crisis,” said Dan Cross, executive director of the Absentee Shawnee Counseling Services.
“Natives and whites have three times the related death rates as do other ethnicities,” Cross said.
Cross said the reasons for that are not clear.
According to Cross, the painkillers that can lead to addiction belong to a class of prescription drugs known as opiates. These include codeine, hydrocodone (found in Lortab and Vicodin), oxycodone (also known as OxyContin) and propoxyphene (found in Darvocet, which the Federal Drug Administration ordered off the U.S. market in 2010).
About 8 percent of Oklahomans age 12 and older used painkillers for nonmedical purposes in 2009, Cross said. He said once a patient becomes addicted, the downward spiral affects more than just the addict.
“What's usually first to go is a job. When you're addicted to pain medication serious problems come with it. The withdrawal is bad and many end up calling in sick to work or using at work. If the addict loses his job he can lose his home, and if he was supporting his family financially then it's not too long until child protective services get involved,” Cross said.
“And all this results from a person who accidentally got addicted to pain medication. A person just like you and me,” he said.
Karen Duderstadt, who attended the seminar, said it's especially important for an addict to have a solid support system when trying to get clean.
“I don't think you can do it by yourself. Having some kind of help is crucial,” Duderstadt said.
Duderstadt's daughter, a nurse, was addicted to oxycodone for years before her family intervened.
“She was in a car wreck and given pain medication. Then her marriage fell apart. Then her ex-husband died in a car crash. It was too much for her to bear and she began to rely on the pain medication she had been given from when she was hurt. She was depressed and her job gave her medical leave.”
When Duderstadt's daughter ran out of her own medication, she turned to an elderly neighbor who willingly gave it to her.
“I could tell something was wrong. It was in her eyes,” Duderstadt said.
When Duderstadt's son went to his sister's apartment to check on her, he found white powder on a dresser.
“I had no idea what it was,” Duderstadt said. “I started to do my research and determined that she had been crushing oxycodone and snorting it. I realized how dangerous that is. That can kill you.”
Duderstadt said her daughter at first was resistant to treatment but ultimately begged for help. Duderstadt took her daughter to a methadone treatment facility in Dallas where medical staff slowly eased her off the drugs.
“It was the worst time of our lives. I hated seeing her like that,” Duderstadt said about the detox phase. “It was like the flu times five.”
Treatment lasted a year, and her daughter remains clean today, Duderstadt said.
“When I first began trying to find my daughter help I went to all sorts of seminars. They all spoke of meth addiction. None of them addressed addiction to pain medication. Not enough people know about this and yet it is so prevalent. Education is the best defense,” she said.
at a glance
To find out how to prevent or to treat addiction, go to the Absentee Shawnee Counseling Services website at www. ascs-okc.com
or the Oklahoma Department of
Mental Health and Substance Abuses' website at www.
Absentee Shawnee Counseling Services is an outpatient service that treats all adults with
addiction problems and treats American Indians who have a Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood
without regard for their ability to pay. Absentee Shawnee Counseling Services, 1301 SE 59, can
be reached at