Editorial: A good plan
By: Journal Record Staff
Oklahoma’s opioid problem is well-documented and Attorney General Mike Hunter wants to do something about it.
According to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Oklahoma in 1999 had 178 opioid-related deaths, a rate of 5.36 deaths per 100,000 people. The following year the rate was up to 7.36 per 100,000. By 2003 it was at 11.78 and in 2009 it reached a shocking 20.63 deaths per 100,000 residents. It has dropped slightly; 2015’s rate was 19 deaths per 100,000 Oklahomans. That meant 725 people in 2015, and that number is likely low because not all deaths require an autopsy or toxicology screening, so some remain unreported.
By comparison, the rate in Texas was low in 2015 at 9.4 per 100,000. But the upward trend of opioid deaths is a national concern; the U.S. rate has climbed from 6.1 in 1999 to 16.3 in 2015, making it the fastest-growing cause of death in the country.
“These escalations parallel an increase by a factor of 10 in the medical use of opioids since 1990, spurred in part by aggressive marketing of OxyContin, an extended-release form of oxycodone approved in 1995, and by efforts to encourage clinicians to become more proactive in identifying and treating chronic pain. Between 1997 and 2002, sales of oxycodone and methadone nearly quadrupled,” wrote Dr. Susan Okie in a November 2010 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine.
It is no surprise, then, that the vast majority of opioids are not acquired from drug dealers on darkened street corners but from friends, family members and physicians. According to CDC data, only 4.4 percent of abused painkillers come from drug dealers, while 66.4 percent come from a friend or relative and 17.3 percent were prescribed by a doctor for the abuser. A 2015 study by Matrix Global Advisors conducted on behalf of Partnership for Drug-Free Kids estimated that opioid abuse costs Oklahomans $267 million per year, $69 per resident.
Oklahoma made mandatory a prescription monitoring program in place in 2015 and last month created the Oklahoma Commission on Opioid Abuse. Attorney General Hunter said he wants to put some teeth in that by pursuing and prosecuting the pharmacists and physicians who fail to comply. He’ll ask the Oklahoma Medical Board to strengthen the punishments it hands down to doctors when investigators present clear evidence. And he’s promised to find ways to help those who are addicted to painkillers and seek treatment.
That’s a good plan to curtail a burgeoning epidemic, and The Journal Record applauds Hunter’s stance of getting tougher on the supply side while helping the afflicted.