How Oklahoma Can Reverse Trends in Pill Abuse & Overdoses

Oklahoma is renowned for having one of the worst problems with prescription drug abuse in the U.S. This is despite the fact that the state was one of the early adopters of a computer-based program to enable doctors to detect drug misuse or fraud. While nearly every state has some kind of Prescription Monitoring Program (PMP), in Oklahoma, use of it is mandatory.

Within five minutes of a patient receiving a prescription, the provider must enter that data into the PMP so that other doctors can tell if a patient is getting too many pills. Also, if a prescription is written for a controlled substance like Valium, Vicodin, Xanax or the muscle relaxant Soma, it is required that the doctor check this database before handing the prescription over.

Out of every 100,000 Oklahoma residents, 20.3 die of drug overdoses. Only five states have higher rates of deaths. Most of the Oklahoma deaths result from prescription drugs, usually painkillers. Even the PMP doesn’t prevent them, in part because so many pills originate from legal – but perhaps unneeded – prescriptions from doctors.

OKlahoma landscape
Oklahoma is a beautiful state whose citizens should not have to struggle with drug abuse and addiction. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has just taken action to turn this tide of destruction by issuing new prescribing guidelines for controlled drugs like painkillers and benzodiazepines (Valium, Xanax and others). While compliance is voluntary at this point, it is a step in the right direction.

Brief Overview of the New Guidelines

The basic intention of these guidelines is to cut back opioid prescribing to practices that are both safe and effective. For years, many doctors have sent every patient home with a month’s worth of pills after an injury or surgery that might only cause a few days of significant pain. These guidelines recommend prescribing just three days of pills, and indicate that only a few cases should need seven days.

It’s also recommended that opioids only be prescribed for chronic pain after other non-drug and non-opioid methods of pain relief were tried. For example, doctors can recommend exercise, massage, acupuncture, chiropractic, ibuprofen or acetaminophen first and then if these actions don’t provide relief, consider opioids if the benefit to quality of life can be expected to outweigh the risks associated with the drugs – risks that include addiction. By the way, the guidelines include provisions for cancer or severe chronic pain patients so they can get the painkillers that provide them with an acceptable quality of life.

Doctors should not describe opioids like Vicodin along with a benzodiazepine like Xanax. This is a very common combination for drug abusers and the addicted.

Every doctor should consult the patient’s history of prescriptions or addiction before prescribing drugs that have abuse potential. If a patient is found to be abusing his prescriptions, the doctor should offer or arrange for drug rehab for his patient.

The CDC guidelines are a good start but that is all they are. By themselves, these guidelines can cut down on the quantity of pills in circulation. Far more change is needed to reverse the extent of our problem with addictive substances. To see why that is, consider these two facts:

The drug that kills the most people around the world is alcohol. One of the reasons it kills so many people is that it is legal in most countries and therefore is readily available to anyone over 21 and only slightly less available to those under 21.

It’s very common for a person addicted to a painkiller to switch to heroin if pills become hard to get. With the fluctuating potency and quality of heroin, it’s easy to overdose on this heroin. We have to do more than just take pills out of circulation.

What else needs to be done? Here’s some of our recommendations and suggestions.

Positive Actions Range from the Government to an Individual Family

If the CDC guidelines are made mandatory, any doctors resisting this change will have to get on board or face disciplinary action or perhaps being excluded from insurance coverage.

Unless a doctor has received specialty training in addiction medicine, he (or she) may only have ever received eight hours of training in spotting or dealing with addiction. Since more than 24 million Americans are dependent on or addicted to drugs or alcohol, doctors need more training and experience in spotting a drug-seeking, addicted patient and knowing how to handle him, including referring him to a rehabilitation program.

There are also many actions community groups, non-profits and families can take to make improvements:

Build sobriety-friendly communities, from city-sponsored events to family weddings and office parties. Begin to break down the assumptions many people have that there are occasions where it is acceptable to let loose and get smashed, like office Christmas parties, New Year’s Eve or one’s 21st birthday.

Adults in a family and in a community should set good examples of light to moderate alcohol use and minimal use of any prescribed controlled substances like painkillers or benzodiazepines.

In families and in the community, the message should go out that those under 21 are fully expected to remain alcohol-free and that all members of the community are expected to remain drug-free. This must be clearly and explicitly stated by parents at every appropriate opportunity. Parents should monitor their children for any substance abuse, including after they go away to college. Their kids’ lives could depend on it, as could their abilities to accomplish their goals and complete their educations.

Schools should be offering each grade drug prevention classes each year, starting no later than third grade. There have been several incidents of third or fourth-grade students bringing drugs they found in the home to school, so the start of these classes must not be delayed.

Robert Van Der Feyst visits Southern California classrooms.
A Narconon drug prevention specialist visits a classroom to teach kids the problems caused by drug abuse.

Of course, there must also be access to effective rehabilitation for those who become addicted. And the rehab that is offered should really return a person to the condition they were in before they became addicted – that’s what rehabilitation really means. In too many cases, doctors in some treatment centers dispense a substitute medication like methadone or buprenorphine for the opioid drug that was being consumed by the patient. Some doctors even tell patients when they start this drug that they will need to take this drug for the rest of their lives.

Why We Don’t Need Medications as Part of Our Recovery Program

We have a 100% different philosophy at Narconon Arrowhead. Here, a person learns how to live a completely drug-free life. (Of course, if a person needs medications properly prescribed for a physical condition, those should be maintained.)

Helping an addicted person reach the point that he (or she) does not any longer need or want drugs takes time. Our program starts with our New Life Detoxification Program, a sauna-based detox that reaches deep into the fatty tissues of the body to flush out old toxic drug residues. A person feels brighter and can think more clearly when these residues are gone. Finally, with a more analytical attitude, he can begin to learn the skills to stay sober.

It also requires training in new life skills and brightening up a person’s perceptions and self-control. Each person needs to recover from the trauma and guilt of the past and add to their problem-solving skills. This helps a person become greatly strengthened in life. An upset or challenge does not drive him back into drugs. When a sober, productive life is enjoyed by the graduate of Narconon, he or she can maintain that sobriety indefinitely because he both wants to and knows how to.

Call Narconon Arrowhead today at 1-800-468-6933 to learn more about our drug-free rehabilitation program located about 90 miles south of Tulsa. This could be the best thing you can do to help create a drug-free community and a drug-free family.



For more than a decade, Karen has been researching and writing about drug trafficking, drug abuse, addiction and recovery. She has also studied and written about policy issues related to drug treatment.