“There's less stigma around prescription drug abuse than there is around other sorts of drugs,” White said.
“Meaning someone who would never consider trying methamphetamine or cocaine or heroin may be willing to try a prescription drug because it's medicine and their perception is it's safer.”
What's being done?
Oklahoma is trying to fight the problem.
The Legislature approved $1.2 million, to go into effect this week, for a prescription drug prevention and treatment program through the Department of Mental Health, White said.
The money is a small amount to fight such a large problem throughout the state, White said. It will be used to improve statewide data collection on prescription drug use and to improve drug prevention and treatment programs.
The misuse of prescription drugs largely contributed to poisoning being the leading cause of unintentional injury death in Oklahomans age 25 to 54, according to the 2011 State of the State's Health report.
Of drug-related deaths in Oklahoma, 81 percent involve prescription drugs, whereas cocaine and heroin make up only about 10 percent. Prescription drugs are easier to obtain and less costly than other drugs, Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control spokesman Mark Woodward said.
Prescription drug abusers generally go about getting pain pills one of three different ways, Woodward said. They commit prescription fraud and seek pain medication from multiple medical professionals for illegitimate reasons, steal from the medicine cabinets of relatives or friends, or buy pills on the street.
Oklahoma's real-time prescription drug tracking system still doesn't completely stop people from doctor shopping, Woodward said. While the Oklahoma Schedule II Abuse Reduction digital system records prescriptions within five minutes of them being filled, addicts find ways around it with multiple forms of identification, personal prescription pads or by giving fake names.
“They're not recreational drug users, but over time it just ends up taking over their lives,” Woodward said.