Deadly medicineState autopsy data shows the most prolific killers are the painkillers hydrocodone and oxycodone, often in combination with the anti-anxiety drug alprazolam. In 2010, hydrocodone was a factor in 153 overdose deaths in Oklahoma, followed by oxycodone at 144 deaths, according to the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control. Both are opioid painkillers, chemical cousins of heroin and morphine. Pain meds containing hydrocodone are marketed under the brand names Lortab and Vicodin. Oxycodone is the main ingredient in Percocet and OxyContin. Alprazolam, marketed as Xanax, contributed to 139 overdose deaths. Other prescription painkillers accounted for significant numbers of deaths. Methadone, used to help wean addicts off other narcotics, as well as to treat chronic pain, contributed to 99 overdoses. Morphine contributed to 85 and fentanyl to 53. Nonprescription street drugs were noted in the deaths of 147 Oklahomans. Meth was present in 99 overdose victims and cocaine in 48. The number of fatal drug overdoses in Oklahoma more than doubled in the past 10 years, climbing to 739 in 2010, according to the state medical examiner’s office. The number of drug overdose deaths was higher than the number of motor vehicle fatalities, which totaled 683.
Lethal cocktailsNationwide, sales of opioid pain relievers quadrupled between 1999 and 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than half of all fatal overdoses involved a “cocktail” of several prescription drugs. Vorse said the combination of opioid painkillers with benzodiazepine tranquilizers such as Xanax and Valium is particularly deadly. Add alcohol to the mix, and it’s even more lethal. “People need to know that if you mix benzos and opiates, you’re going to die,” Vorse said. “If that was general knowledge, we might save 100, 200 lives a year from that information alone.” Darrell Weaver, director of the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control, said statistics suggest much of the medication shipped into the state is being diverted to abusers. “I’m of the opinion that no Oklahoman should be in pain,” Weaver said. Oklahoma comes in ninth place for prescription drug sales... Oklahomans abuse prescription painkillers more than any... Number of Oklahomans who die from drug overdoses higher...
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Fatal Rx overdoses
A sampling of fatal prescription drug overdoses investigated by the state medical examiner's office illustrates the danger of combining opioid painkillers with other narcotics or alcohol. The case studies, culled from data compiled over a four-week period in 2010, include:
• A 53-year-old Broken Bow woman with a history of back pain and prescription drug abuse. A family member told the medical examiner she sometimes purchased drugs on the street when her Xanax prescription ran out. She tested positive for the painkiller hydrocodone, the muscle relaxer carisoprodol and the tranquilizer meprobamate.