Oklahoma is known as having some of the highest rates of meth abuse in the nation. In fact, several media outlets have dubbed Tulsa the “Meth Capital of the World” for the high rates of addiction and the large numbers of active and abandoned meth labs that have been discovered in Tulsa County.
However, recently, reports are being published that indicate meth is not the drug of choice in Oklahoma. Rather, prescription drugs are the most frequently abused drugs in the state. In early 2012, The Oklahoman reported that Oklahoma was ranked number one in the nation in prescription painkiller abuse. The article gave some shocking figures, including that the state had an average of two drug overdose deaths per day, with more deaths from overdose than from car accidents. Of those overdose deaths, four out of five were linked to prescription drugs.
That year, the state enacted changes strengthening the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control’s Prescription Monitoring Program in an attempt to reduce doctor shopping and other forms of prescription drug fraud.
In 2013, the numbers reported were a little more promising. A report released in October of that year, Prescription Drug Abuse: Strategies to Stop the Epidemic, showed that while Oklahoma had the fifth-highest prescription overdose rate in the nation, it also scored 8 out of 10 “promising strategies” to help curb prescription drug abuse.
These indicators of reducing prescription drug abuse rates include the Prescription Monitoring Program and prescribers’ mandatory use of the program, doctor shopping laws, an ID requirement in filling prescriptions for certain controlled substances, and the requirement that doctors perform a physical exam before prescribing a controlled substance.
These laws may have reduced the number of people affected by prescription drug overdose, but they have also sent a number of people to prison. This year, the Oklahoma government is proposing legislation to add prescription drugs to the list of drugs included in the state’s drug trafficking statutes, which is currently the Oklahoma Trafficking in Illegal Drugs Act. Under the proposed law, possession of certain quantities of prescription drugs would be considered drug trafficking.
Many people do not realize that prescription drugs, as legal substances, can be just as addictive or deadly as illegal drugs such as heroin and cocaine. A report by the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (ODMHSAS) cites the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as saying that deaths from opioid pain relievers (OPR) surpass number of deaths from heroin and cocaine overdose combined.
Although prescription drugs can be legally obtained and have a legitimate medical purpose. The illegal possession or distribution of prescription drugs is a serious criminal offense.
Possession of a Controlled Dangerous Substance (CDS) is punished as a misdemeanor or a felony on the first offense, depending on the drug’s schedule. Some of the most commonly abused prescription drugs—including methadone, oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, and morphine—are Schedule II drugs, making their illegal possession a felony.
Illegal distribution of prescription drugs is always a felony, and it carries a maximum penalty of life in prison. This means that a college student who shares his or her legally prescribed Xanax at a party could face life in prison for distribution of a CDS.
Prescription drugs are often highly addictive and should be prescribed with care. For some people, the term “drug addiction” is accompanied by a stereotypical image of a junkie with a needle in his arm. However, with such high rates of prescription drug abuse in Oklahoma, the term addiction crosses all socio-economic boundaries. Often, those addicted to prescription drugs have been legally prescribed the medication after an injury or surgery; however, these highly addictive substances take hold over the person, who may then turn to illegal means of obtaining the drug.
Doctor shopping, stealing prescription pads, and buying stolen or unused pills from others are among some of the ways people illegally obtain prescription medications.
Over-the-counter drugs such as dextomethorphan, used in cough medicines, and pseudoephedrine, used in the manufacture of methamphetamine, are also frequently abused.
Oxycodone is a narcotic analgesic, or painkiller, that is often sold under the brand name OxyContin. Its pain relief effects are compared to codeine or morphine. It is also combined with other non-narcotic painkillers to form Percocet (oxycodone plus acetaminophen) and Percodan (oxycodone plus aspirin).
OxyContin became a popularly prescribed narcotic painkiller because it contains the powerful oxycodone in a time-released capsule, providing long-lasting relief to those suffering from chronic pain. While OxyContin is prescribed as a capsule, those who abuse the painkiller often resort to crushing and snorting the drug or diluting it with water and injecting it.
Some users of oxycodone compare the effects of the drug to the euphoria associated with heroin use. Unfortunately, OxyContin is highly addictive and its abuse can be fatal, particularly when the drug is combined with alcohol or other drugs.
The Center for Substance Abuse Research says that in 1996, when OxyContin was first marketed, oxycodone was associated with 49 deaths. In 1999, just three years later, that number had skyrocketed to 292. According to the United States Department of Justice’s National Drug Intelligence Center, a National Household Drug Abuse Survey revealed that more than 1 million Americans aged 12 or older have taken OxyContin nonmedically at least once in their lives.
OxyContin and drugs containing oxycodone are known by the street names Oxy, O.C., Ox, Hillbilly Heroin, Oxycotton, Kicker and Blue.
In December 2013, researchers announced the results of a survey of more than 3,500 prescription painkiller abusers in drug treatment programs across the nation. The researchers found that 45 percent of the subjects were addicted to oxycodone as the most abused drug in the United States, but hydrocodone came a near second, with 30 percent of those abusing prescription narcotic painkillers describing hydrocodone as their preferred drug.
Hydrocodone, like oxycodone, is an opioid narcotic. Brand names include Vicodin, Lortab, Lorcet, and Norco, all mixtures of hydrocodone and acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol. One reason some abusers prefer oxycodone to hydrocodone is that oxy is available in pure form through OxyContin.
While oxycodone is often snorted or injected, hydrocodone is typically ingested in pill form, making it preferable to users who do not wish to take drugs through either of those methods.
Methadone is a synthetic narcotic often used in the treatment of addiction to heroin, morphine, and opioid painkillers. It works to ease withdrawal and reduce cravings by targeting the same areas of the brain as other opiates. In recent years, it has become a commonly abused drug, with some users turning to methadone because it is easier to get than other prescription painkillers. Because the drug does not deliver the same potency as oxycodone or hydrocodone, methodone users often take the drug in dangerous, potentially fatal quantities in an attempt to achieve the same high.
Anti-anxiety drugs are commonly available in many homes, making them easy for teens and others to steal from medicine cabinets. Benzodiazepines are central nervous system depressants often used to treat anxiety, but they can also be used in the treatment of insomnia and seizure disorders. Brand names of frequently prescribed and abused benzodiazepines include Xanax (alprazolam) and Valium (diazepam).
According to the United States Department of Health and Human Service’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 95 percent of those seeking treatment for benzodiazepine abuse reported abuse of additional drugs as well. In the overwhelming majority of these cases (82 percent), the benzodiazepine was the secondary drug, while the primary drug was often an opiate such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, or methadone. Combining benzodiazepines with other drugs often leads to fatal overdose.
Barbituates were once one of the most commonly abused prescription drugs, but the sedatives are now less frequently prescribed than benzodiazepines for the treatment of anxiety and sleep disorders. Seconal, Secobarbital, Pentobarbital, Phenobarbital are among the brand names of barbiturates that are still prescribed and abused. While the rate of both prescription and abuse has dwindled overall, the rate of barbiturate abuse among teenagers and young adults has increased over the past decade. Often, these sedative drugs are used to counteract the effects of more stimulating prescription drugs, and like benzodiazepine abuse, barbiturate abuse is often a secondary addiction in opiate abuse.
Non-benzodiazepine sleep aids are prescribed to combat insomnia. These sleeping pills are thought to have fewer side effects and less risk of dependence than benzodiazepines and barbiturates. Commonly prescribed sleep aids include Ambien (zolpidem), Lunesta (eszopiclone), and Sonata (zalepon). While these drugs may be prescribed as “safer” alternatives to benzodiazepines, the rate of abuse is still fairly high. Between the years 2004 and 2009, the number of emergency room visits related to Ambien use jumped from 13,000 to 29,000. Like other similar depressants, abuse of prescription sleep aids is often tied to abuse of another drug, often a narcotic painkiller.
Drugs used in the treatment of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are found in millions of medicine cabinets across the nation. With children, teens and even adults prescribed these drugs to help improve focus, the pills are readily available to those who wish to abuse them. ADHD drugs in schools have become a problem as teens sell their own ADHD drugs or steal a younger sibling’s medications. The drugs used in the treatment of ADHD are generally amphetamines, marketed under the names Adderall and Dexedrine, and methylphenidate, marketed under the names Ritalin and Concerta. When taken as prescribed, these drugs are not considered to be dangerous or addicting. However, when taken in large quantities or when crushed and snorted, they are said to have effects comparable to cocaine.
Addiction to prescription drugs often breaks stereotypes and is considered “white collar drug abuse.” Often, the person addicted has no intention to ever abuse the prescription. However, a combination of chronic or intense pain and highly addictive narcotics can lead to a dependency that escalates beyond one’s control.
If you have been arrested for illegal possession of prescription drugs, call today to speak with a lawyer about your case. We are not here to judge you; we are here to help you in the face of judgment.