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Oklahoma Among Worst for Prescription Pain Pill Abuse

Mon, 09/21/2009 - 4:58am
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma is the only state to have two regions nationally ranked among the top 15 areas of highest prescription pain pill misuse, and officials say there's no indication supplies will diminish anytime soon. Those regions are Oklahoma City and Tulsa, and their surrounding areas. The Oklahoma Prescription Monitoring Program says data shows that supplies of prescription pain medication in Oklahoma more than doubled over a four-year period ending in 2006. The volume of prescription pain medicine is enough in one year to give every state resident about 60 painkillers. Nearly 2.5 tons — the equivalent of about 200 million, 10 milligram pills — were shipped to the state in 2006. A report released by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration shows most of those drugs went to pharmacies. Controlled pain pill use and abuse has been escalating in Oklahoma since 2004, said Mark Woodward, spokesman for the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. Doctors are prescribing pain medications more often and more patients are asking for them, he said. "There's really nothing showing the use is going down," Woodward told The Oklahoman newspaper. There has been a nearly 40 percent increase in the number of doses of hydrocodone dispensed by pharmacies between Sept. 2007 and June 2009, according to the Prescription Monitoring Program. Oxycodone increased by about 30 percent over the same time period. The data doesn't include drugs in a liquid form such as cough syrup. Dr. Charles Shaw, an Oklahoma City-based specialist with more than 20 years of experience in treating addiction, said painkillers have replaced marijuana as a drug that people are likely to use first, before moving on to other drugs. Marijuana has long been regarded as the primary "gateway" drug. "Many young people experiment with pain medications and become hooked," he said. "Most of the ones I see are in their 20s and have lost everything." Woodward said in 2008 there were more than 600 prescription drug-related deaths in the state. "Sometimes people just don't become aware it is a problem until someone close dies or becomes addicted," said Chris Smith, agent in charge of diversion for the state narcotics bureau. Shaw said doctors began approaching pain management differently in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Where there was apprehension in prescribing some of these medications before, many started prescribing more liberally to help keep patients comfortable and out of pain. "And now it's a cash cow for pharmaceutical companies," Shaw said. "And I don't see that slowing anytime soon." Doctors started prescribing less codeine and more oxycodone and hydrocodone around 2004, Woodward said. Amounts have been on the rise ever since. He said once pills leave the pharmacy they are difficult to track, but one way to stop their illegal spread is for people who are caught selling them to tell investigators how they got the pills. "Sometimes they spill everything," Woodward said. The latest survey from the National Centers for Drug Use and Health found that more than half of those surveyed said painkillers they took nonmedically were given to them by a friend or relative for free. About 20 percent said they obtained medications from one doctor. The remainder reported they paid for the drugs from a dealer and a fraction said they bought them on the Internet. "Once it gets out of the pharmacy, it's too late," Shaw said. "You have to go back to the source to slow this."

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