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Known as "Oklahoma's favorite son," the late comedian and actor Will Rogers once said, "Good judgment comes from experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment." When it comes to the Sooner State's biggest drug addiction problem - prescription painkillers (opioids) - it often begins with just a single moment of bad judgement and ends in a body bag.
Over the last twenty-five years, the devastating wave of prescription painkiller (opioid) addiction has washed over the greater US like an unstoppable poison tsunami, laying waste to everything in its path, and Oklahoma definitely hasn't been spared.
According to the 2007 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), Oklahomans exceeded the national average for misuse and abuse of prescription painkillers (opioids) by 232% -- a 22% increase since 2004! Currently, for Oklahomans ages 25 to 64, the leading cause of death is accidental overdose or poisoning. The majority of these deaths are from opiates, seconded by benzodiazepines (anti-anxiety medications). This means that in Oklahoma, prescription painkillers were responsible for more deaths than heroin, meth, and cocaine combined.
Opioids are highly addictive in large part because they activate the powerful reward centers in the human brain. These drugs trigger the release of endorphins, (your brain's feel-good neurotransmitters) which mask or interrupt your perception of pain and enhance feelings of pleasure and happiness, creating a short-lasting but extremely powerful sense of well-being. It's only human to love the feeling! And, when an opioid starts to wear off, it's in our very human nature to crave the return of that wonderful sense that everything is perfect and as it should be. This is the first step on the path toward addiction, and it can happen even to people who think they're being vigilant.
The root of the problem stems from doctors over-prescribing these highly addictive drugs when, in many cases, Tylenol, Excedrin or Advil will do. In Oklahoma, almost one in five (17 percent) of those who used prescription painkillers nonmedically were prescribed the medication by a doctor; 72 percent got the medication from a friend or relative, and 60 percent of those were given the medication for free (eight percent bought the medication from a friend or relative, and four percent took the medication without asking). Just four percent bought the painkillers from a dealer.
When prescribed opioids from a doctor, you may feel like a few pills couldn't hurt, but this is at the root of why opioids are so incredibly dangerous. Just one or two of few these prescription pain pills can get people hooked and send them off on a downward spiral into the throes of full-on dependency, and people living in extremely remote areas (like many small Oklahoman towns) may be especially at risk. Oklahoma has 3,579,212 people; that's an average of just 50.3 people per square mile! And it ranks only 27th among the 50 states in population. Because prescription painkillers often lead to heroin addiction, (as heroin is cheaper than the pills, and usually far easier to obtain) the heroin problem has exploded in Oklahoma as well.
From 1999 to 2016, over 10,000 Oklahomans died from a drug overdose, and in 2016, 54% of all overdose deaths in Oklahoma involved an opioid. In that same year, enough opioids were prescribed in Oklahoma for every adult in the state to possess greater than 100 pills! Oklahoma has the highest percentage in the nation of individuals 12 and older who use medications for non-medical reasons, and the sad reality is that on average, one Oklahoman dies every day from an opioid overdose.
When we widen our lens and take a look at all forms of substance abuse, sadly, Oklahoma ranks 2nd in the United States at 11.9%.
The Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (ODMHSAS) estimates that nearly 140,000 Oklahomans over age 18--roughly 5 percent of the population--need treatment for alcohol addiction. Another 1 percent--roughly 21,000 people--need treatment for other types of drug addiction. Almost 6 percent of the state's 323,000 adolescents--approximately 20,000 teenagers--need treatment for alcohol and drug addiction.
A 2017 study focusing on substances abused by youth in Oklahoma yielded some troubling numbers:
17% of Oklahoma high school students (grades 9-12) report they drank alcohol for the first time before age 13.
32% of the same high school students (grades 9-12) report they had at least one drink of alcohol in the past month.
And 14% report they had 4 or more drinks of alcohol in a row (if they were female) or 5 or more drinks of alcohol in a row (if they were male) within a couple of hours within the last month.
33% of Oklahoma high school students (grade 9-12) report they've used marijuana. This is especially concerning when we consider the fact that marijuana in known to affect brain development in young people and can sometimes lead to the use of more harmful substances.
4% of Oklahoma high school students (grades 9-12) report using cocaine at least once.
Among youth in Oklahoma ages 12-17, 4% report using prescription painkillers in a way not dictated by a doctor, within the last year.
The good news for Oklahomans bravely fighting the daily battle against drug and alcohol addiction is that they are never alone. Help is here, and only a simple mouse click away. The first step towards the rest of your life is putting down the bottle, or locking up the pills, and making the decision to seek the assistance that will set you on the path to recovery. This is the first, bold step towards the rest of your life.
Oklahoma State Facts
Oklahoma Population: 3,450,600
Law Enforcement Officers in Oklahoma: 8,401
Oklahoma Prison Population: 29,200
Oklahoma Probation Population: 30,269
Violent Crime Rate National Ranking: 16
2004 Federal Drug Seizures in Oklahoma
Cocaine: 83.7 kgs.
Heroin: 0.0 kgs.
Methamphetamine: 4.8 kgs.
Marijuana: 433.8 kgs.
Methamphetamine Laboratories: 404 (DEA, state, and local)
Oklahoma Drug Situation: Methamphetamine, which is produced in Mexico and the Southwest United States and locally produced, remains the principal drug of concern in the State of Oklahoma. Cocaine, particularly crack cocaine, is a significant problem in the urban areas of the state. Oklahoma also serves as a transshipment point for drugs being transported to the eastern United States via Interstates 40 and 44 that intersect the state. Interstate 35 also provides a critical north-south transportation avenue for drug traffickers.
Cocaine in Oklahoma: Cocaine continues to be readily available throughout Oklahoma. The cocaine is transported from Texas, and Mexico via commercial airlines and motor vehicles. Mexican polydrug traffickers dealing in marijuana and methamphetamine bring some of the cocaine into the state. Much of the cocaine HCl is converted into crack cocaine for sale at the retail level. Cocaine is distributed primarily by Mexican and African American traffickers. The majority of the cocaine purchased in the Oklahoma City area is transported in by local suppliers who travel to large cities in Texas and return to distribute the product.
Heroin in Oklahoma: Black Tar heroin is available in limited quantities near the metropolitan areas in Oklahoma. It is rare to encounter brown or white heroin, though in a very few instances, “white” heroin from Colombia has been seen. Recently, brown heroin of high potency (66%) was encountered in the Oklahoma City area. Demand for heroin has declined in recent years. The majority of heroin traffickers in Oklahoma receive their heroin from Mexico. Most of the heroin transported into Oklahoma is concealed in hidden compartments in passenger vehicles.
Methamphetamine in Oklahoma: Methamphetamine is the primary drug of choice in Oklahoma. Caucasian males and females are equally the primary users. Most of the methamphetamine in the state is brought in by Hispanic organizations via motor vehicles, commercial airlines, and mail delivery services. An increase in the amount of crystal methamphetamine has been seen over the past year.
Local small “mom and pop” laboratories continue to be a significant problem throughout Oklahoma. Approximately 30% of local laboratories use the Nazi method and produce only ounce quantities or less at a time.
Club Drugs in Oklahoma: The state of Oklahoma is seeing an increase in the abuse of “club drugs,” such as MDMA and GHB. MDMA is found at rave parties in eastern and central Oklahoma. The majority of the MDMA seen in Oklahoma comes from the West Coast, Nevada and Texas. A small number of seizures have involved MDMA originating in Canada.
Marijuana in Oklahoma: Marijuana is readily available in all areas of Oklahoma. Marijuana is the main illegal drug of abuse in the state. Marijuana imported from Mexico is prevalent and is usually imported in combination with other illegal drugs being transported to Oklahoma and other states north and east. The majority of the marijuana is imported from the southwest border via passenger vehicle and occasionally in freight vehicles. Mexican “Sensimilla”, usually found in “pressed/brick” form, is the most common type of marijuana seen in Oklahoma, particularly in urban areas.
Domestically produced marijuana is also available in Oklahoma, though not as readily in recent years. Oklahoma, along with several other southern states has endured severe drought conditions over the past three years. This situation has affected the local production of marijuana.
Other Drugs in Oklahoma: The most popular pharmaceutical substances abused in Oklahoma are Vicodin, Lortab, propoxyphene, alprazolam, hydrocodone, Ultram, diazepam, Hycodan, Demerol, Dilaudid, and Percodan. Much of the diversion is through fraudulent prescriptions, doctor shopping, pharmacy break-ins, and hospital thefts. OxyContin is also increasing as a pharmaceutical drug of abuse in Oklahoma.
DEA Mobile Enforcement Teams: This cooperative program with state and local law enforcement counterparts was conceived in 1995 in response to the overwhelming problem of drug-related violent crime in towns and cities across the nation. There have been 409 deployments completed resulting in 16,763 arrests of violent drug criminals as of February 2004. There have been three MET deployments in the State of Oklahoma since the inception of the program: Duncan, Ardmore, and El Reno.
Other Enforcement Operations in Oklahoma: The number of Operation Pipeline interdictions are increasing within the state of Oklahoma. California and Texas are most often reported as the domestic states of origin. Since the state of Oklahoma is traversed by numerous Interstate Highways, interdictions are common in all areas. Seizures of illicit drugs traveling through Oklahoma en route to their destinations north and east are routine, as well as seizures of large amounts of currency en route south and west.
DEA Regional Enforcement Teams: This program was designed to augment existing DEA division resources by targeting drug organizations operating in the United States where there is a lack of sufficient local drug law enforcement. This Program was conceived in 1999 in response to the threat posed by drug trafficking organizations that have established networks of cells to conduct drug trafficking operations in smaller, non-traditional trafficking locations in the United States. Nationwide, there have been 22 deployments completed resulting in 608 arrests of drug trafficking criminals as of February 2004. There has been one RET deployment in the State of Oklahoma since the inception of the program, in McAlester.
Oklahoma Drug Courts/Treatment Centers: There are currently Twenty-two drug courts operating in the state of Oklahoma with eleven more in the planning stages.
According to the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, there were 212 drug and alcohol treatment centers operating in the state of Oklahoma during 2001.
Current Laws Regarding Criminal Sanctions and Precursor Chemicals in Oklahoma: Over the past couple of years the Oklahoma Legislature has passed numerous laws regarding methamphetamine and its precursor chemicals. These include additional penalties for manufacturing methamphetamine in the presence of minors; possessing or distributing methamphetamine in the vicinity of schools, public parks, public pools or on a marked school bus; and for tampering with anhydrous ammonia equipment. Any possession of anhydrous ammonia in unapproved containers is considered prima facie evidence of manufacture. Any possession of three (3) ingredients such as iodine, red phosphorous and ether is considered prima facie evidence of intent to manufacture methamphetamine. The average lab manufacturing sentence in the state is approximately 20 years. House Bill 2316 passed both the Oklahoma House and Senate in May 2002 and went in to effect on July 1, 2002. This new law puts a 24 gram limit on all cold medicines containing pseudoephedrine or ephedrine. The charge carries a five year maximum sentence. If a retailer knowlingly distributes pseudoephedrine, ephedrine, or phenylpropanolamine with the knowledge that it will be used to manufacture methamphetamine, the sentence carries a maximum of ten years incarceration. House Bill 1326, effective July 1, 2003 requires state registration (mirroring Federal Law) for the handling/distribution of products containing Pseudoephedrine at both the wholesale and retail levels.
New Legislation in Oklahoma: House Bill 2176 was presented to the Senate in March 2004 and is expected to be signed into law by Governor Brad Henry within the next few months. This Bill calls for Pseudoephedrine to be included as a Schedule V controlled substance.