Since the law doesn't require medical personnel or pharmacists to look up every customer, the monitoring program is used more as a tool between practitioners, pharmacies and law enforcement agencies, said Mark Woodward, spokesman for the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control.
Woodward said the agency established its first drug-tracking program in 1990 and led the country in doing so.
The program, called OSTAR, only monitored Schedule II drugs, such as morphine and methadone.
In the past decade, prescription drug abuse and overdose deaths rose to new heights, both nationally and locally.
In Oklahoma, deaths from methadone overdoses rose 308 percent from 2001 to 2007.
Woodward said agents realized people were abusing different drugs and they needed a new system to monitor all of these prescription medications.
A law was passed in 2009 to require pharmacists and dispensers to move to a real-time system by this year.
“They're not your typical, stereotypical street-drug addict who's getting painkillers,” Woodward said.
Known as a silent cancer by narcotic agents, prescription drug abuse has contributed dramatically to the number of overdose deaths in Oklahoma.
In 2010, the state had 579 overdose deaths caused by prescribed pharmaceuticals. Hydrocodone overdoses alone caused more deaths (153) than all “street” drugs combined (136).
“This is certainly a new era of overdose. The rates of deaths overall are higher than they've ever been,” said Chris Jones, health scientist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
He said the number of overdoses due to prescription medication has exceeded the number of overdose deaths from heroin and cocaine in the past few decades.
“When you look at people who are initiating drug use, prescription drug is the first drug they use,” Jones said.