Meth, Heroin Overdoses Spike Drastically In Oklahoma

By McCarton Ackerman 08/05/16

Some Oklahoma health officials attribute the spike to former prescription painkiller users switching to the less expensive street drugs to get their fix.

Meth, Heroin Overdoses Spike Drastically In Oklahoma

Heroin and methamphetamine continue to be an ongoing issue in Oklahoma—as a recent rise in overdose deaths there have been attributed to the two substances, while fatal prescription overdoses have declined.

According to Oklahoma Watch, the latest data show that heroin overdoses account for nearly 10% of all opioid-related deaths in the state. Only 12 were recorded in 2011, but they’re on track to reach 40 or more in 2016. Meanwhile, fatal methamphetamine overdoses have soared from 103 in 2010 to 265 last year.

“We’re seeing an increase in heroin because of the cost of Oxy (oxycodone),” said Dr. Hal Vorse, a physician who treats addicts at a clinic in Oklahoma City. “I saw a guy today who was doing 300 milligrams a day of oxycodone. That’s a $300- to $400-a-day habit ... They can get the same effect at about a third of the cost by using heroin." Prescription oxycodone is currently being sold on the streets in Oklahoma for about $1 per milligram, Vorse told Oklahoma Watch. But an addict may need 100 milligrams just to prevent the painful effects of withdrawal from setting in. 

As of May, Oklahoma ranked No. 10 in the nation for prescription overdose deaths, according to News OK. But despite the clear need for treatment options, more than 600 people in the state are currently on a waiting list for state-funded inpatient substance abuse treatment. The problem has become so significant that U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy visited Oklahoma City in May to help raise awareness about the opioid epidemic and ways to combat it.

"Treatment centers save lives, and sometimes, people say, 'Well, we can't afford to build these centers,'" said Murthy during his visit. "I say we can't afford not to have treatment because the cost of not getting people the help they need is just far too great." 

For now, Oklahoma lawmakers seem to be doing what they can with the options they have available. A law created in 2014 expanded naloxone access to friends and family members without a prescription, while a new law passed last year requires doctors to check the state’s Prescription Monitoring Program database at least once every six months before dispensing opioid painkillers, anti-anxiety meds like Xanax, and Soma, a muscle relaxant.

But while more physicians are becoming aware of the issue, most only have the resources to slow down the trend of addiction rather than stop it.

"Ten, 15 years ago, everybody was pushing the idea that you couldn’t get hooked on opiates, and you could just prescribe them," said Lyle Kelsey, executive director of the Oklahoma State Board of Medical Licensure and Supervision. “Now, it’s kind of like standing in front of a locomotive and trying to slow it down.”

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.

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