U.S. Surgeon General Addresses Opioid Epidemic in Oklahoma City

By McCarton Ackerman 05/19/16

In the fall, Dr. Murthy intends to release the first-ever Surgeon General's report on substance use, addiction and health.

U.S. Surgeon General Addresses Opioid Epidemic in Oklahoma City
U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy

U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy is turning his attention to opioid abuse, speaking about the growing number of overdose deaths from these drugs and advocating for greater access to treatment.

Murthy was in Oklahoma City this week to help raise awareness about the opioid epidemic. He met with 300 health professionals at the Samis Education Center and toured a local substance abuse clinic, speaking with the parents of Austin Box, a 22-year-old football player from the University of Oklahoma who died of an overdose five years ago. Speaking with reporters afterward, he cited data that an opioid overdose death occurs once every 19 minutes in the U.S. and that overdose deaths have quadrupled since 1999.

"Every person who dies from an overdose is a tragedy because it was preventable, and that's why this issue is so important," said Murthy. “People ask, ‘Why are we spending so much time and effort talking about this?’ This is one such moment where we have again an important time and a crisis that we're facing when it comes to opioids, and we want to do everything possible to focus our nation's efforts and resources and attention on tackling this epidemic.”

The problem has hit Oklahoma especially hard, with the state ranking No. 10 in the nation for prescription drug overdose deaths. Despite the need for treatment in the state, there has been a waiting list of 600 people for state-funded inpatient substance abuse treatment.

Although some investments have been made by the state to address the issue, and both law enforcement and first responder officials in Oklahoma now carry naloxone, Murthy said that more needs to be done. He plans to release the first-ever Surgeon General’s report on substance use, addiction and health this fall. His goal is for the findings to have the same impact as the 1964 Surgeon General's report on smoking, which was the first federal government report to link smoking to poor health.

"Treatment centers save lives, and sometimes, people say, 'Well, we can't afford to build these centers,'" said Murthy. "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." 

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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.