Woodward, Okla. —
Since the late 1990's, the most common cause of overdose deaths has been prescription drugs.
Of the nearly 3,200 unintentional poisoning deaths in Oklahoma from 2007 to 2011, 81 percent involved at least one prescription drug, according to the Oklahoma Department of Health.
The department says the most common prescription drugs involved in overdose deaths are hydrocodone, oxycodone, and aplrazolam and nearly three-fourths of opioid- related deaths occur at a residence.
“It is mistakenly assumed that abusing prescription drugs is a safer alternative to abusing illegal drugs,” said Avy Doran, project coordinator for the unintentional poisoning prevention programs within Injury Prevention Service at the Oklahoma State Department of Health. “When abused or misused they are as dangerous as illegal drugs.”
Doran says more Oklahomans are dying of prescription drug overdose than illicit drugs. In 2009, more Oklahomans died of an unintentional poisoning than in motor vehicle accidents.
She said there are several factors that contribute to the rapid growth of prescription drug abuse including misperception about their safety. Because prescription drugs are prescribed by doctors and approved by the FDA, people assume they are safe to take under any circumstances. They are also more available than illegal drugs.
Per capita, Oklahoma is one of the top states in prescription painkiller sales and is fifth in the nation for hydrocodone distribution. In 2011, hydrocodone was the most prescribed drug in the United States. There are also several other factors that motivate abuse including anxiety, to counter pain, to get high, and for to help with sleep problems.
When taken for specific medical purposes prescription drugs are safe and effective but when abused can be just as dangerous as other illicit drugs. “Oklahomans need to be aware of the risks associated with prescription drugs and only take medications as prescribed,” Doran said.
It is also important to dispose of unused, unneeded, or expired prescription drugs at approved drug disposal site, never share or sell your prescription drugs, keep all pain medication away from children and keep medicines in their original bottles or containers.
To protect children it is important to avoid taking medicine in front of them as they mimic behaviors, do not call them “candy”, do not let guests leave drugs where children can reach them, and never leave children home with household products or drugs.
For more information on preventing unintentional poisonings, contact the OSDH Injury Prevention Service at 405-271-3430 or visit www.poison.health.ok.gov. For help finding treatment referrals call 211. To report illegal distribution or diversion of prescription drugs, call the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control at 1-800-522-8031.