by Silas Allen Published: June 2, 2016 12:00 AM CDT Updated: June 2, 2016 9:32 PM CDT
Oklahoma leads the nation in abuse of prescription painkillers, according to recent federal data.
The report, which was compiled by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, shows Oklahoma had the highest percentage of individuals age 12 and older who reported using prescription painkillers for nonmedical reasons.
The data, which was released in December, comes from the agency’s annual National Survey on Drug Use and Health. The report divides all 50 states, plus the District of Columbia, into quintiles, effectively creating a top-10 list for substance abuse in each of four categories: marijuana, cocaine, alcohol and the nonmedical use of opioid pain medication.
Rounding out the top-10 list for prescription drug abuse were Colorado, Alabama, Oregon, Arizona, Louisiana, Ohio, Virginia, Arkansas and Maryland.
Despite the state’s heavy use of prescription painkillers, Oklahoma ranked fairly favorably in the alcohol use, cocaine and marijuana categories. The state ranked 38th in alcohol use, 41st in marijuana use and 49th in cocaine use within the past year among individuals age 12 and older.
Washington, D.C., ranked highest in each of the other three categories — alcohol, cocaine and marijuana. Although Colorado didn’t finish at the top of any category, it ranked in the top 10 in all four categories, and came in second in the cocaine, marijuana and prescription drug categories.
According to data from the 2013-2014 survey, which is the most recent available, 4.95 percent of Oklahomans age 12 and older reported using prescription painkillers for nonmedical reasons at some point in the past year.
Prescription drug abuse was highest among young adults: 10.14 percent of those age 18 to 25 reported having abused prescription painkillers in the past year. It was least common among older adults, with 3.98 percent reporting having abused painkillers in the past year.
Among those age 12 to 17, 5.33 percent reported having abused prescription painkillers during the time period.
Oklahoma’s prescription drug abuse problem isn’t a new one. In 2009, unintentional poisoning, chiefly because of prescription drug overdose, surpassed car crashes to become the state’s leading cause of unintentional injury death, according to the state Health Department.
In 2012, Oklahoma had the fifth-highest unintentional poisoning death rate in the U.S., with the majority of those deaths the result of prescription drug overdoses.
In the past 12 years, Oklahoma has seen the overall number of overdose deaths from powerful prescription drugs more than double, and the number of deaths because of hydrocodone and oxycodone more than quadruple.
In a 2014 interview with The Oklahoman, Terri White, commissioner of the state Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, said one of the factors that led to prescription drug abuse is so-called doctor shopping, in which patients go from one doctor to the next, collecting prescriptions for painkillers.
White said the state’s Prescription Monitoring Program was a good way for doctors to see which prescriptions their patients have received and weed out doctor shoppers. But most doctors didn’t use the program, she said. The state has since moved to strengthen the program by requiring doctors to check the database before issuing certain prescriptions.
“Utilization of the PMP system by prescribers has the potential to save lives,” White said. “This is a tool that will aid providers in appropriate prescribing, in addition to significantly impacting the misuse of these powerful, addictive medications. Addressing this problem is up to all of us. We all have a role to play. This is one step of many on the road to helping stop prescription drug abuse in Oklahoma.”
Contributing: Jaclyn Cosgrove, staff writer