Oklahoma is making strides in the battle against prescription drug abuse. Sadly, the state still has miles to go.
A report this week by the nonprofit Trust for America's Health said only four other states have a higher prescription drug mortality rate than Oklahoma's 19.4 per 100,000 people. The state's rate tripled from 1999 to 2010, which is distressing, but so have 10 other states'. And it could be worse — West Virginia had 28.9 overdose deaths per 100,000, the highest rate in the country and an increase of 605 percent since 1999.
Nationwide, sales of prescription painkillers per capita, and the number of resulting fatal poisonings, have quadrupled since 1999. So Oklahoma is hardly alone in this fight.
Prescription drug abuse has had a high profile here. In 2010, former Oklahoma State University basketball coach Sean Sutton, addicted to painkillers at the time, was charged with felony counts related to illegally obtaining prescriptions. The following year, University of Oklahoma football player Austin Box overdosed on painkillers and died.
For every high-profile case, there are scores of everyday residents who get hooked. Prescription drug overdoses kill more Oklahomans each year than motor vehicle accidents; ours is one of 29 states where this is the case. Nationally, Trust for America's Health said prescription drug-related deaths outpace those from heroin and cocaine combined.
Andrea Gielen, head of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Johns Hopkins University, said prescription drug abuse is “a very real epidemic, and warrants a strong public health response.” Oklahoma has responded — authors of the report said we're one of 11 states that have put in place eight out of 10 recommended strategies for curbing prescription drug abuse, such as laws to prevent doctor shopping.
That's encouraging, although those efforts must continue and even expand if the state is going to shed this unfortunate top-10 ranking.