Oklahoma's painkiller abuse 'crisis' is growing, experts say

The Absentee Shawnee Counseling Services hosted a tribal forum June 21 to address painkiller addiction in Oklahoma and the high rate of opiate-related deaths among whites and American Indians.
BY NASREEN IQBAL niqbal@opubco.com Published: July 9, 2012

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.

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