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September 22, 2012

Experts: Prescription drug problems plaguing Okla.

McALESTER — OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma should invest in drug prevention programs, increase training for officers and require better compliance with prescription drug reporting systems to get a handle on the state’s growing problem of prescription drug abuse, experts told a legislative panel on Thursday.

The state ranks the highest in the nation for nonmedical use of painkillers, and is among the top states for drug overdose death rates and amount of prescription painkillers sold per 10,000 people, said Darrell Weaver, director of the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs.

“It’s really no respecter of persons,” Weaver told members of the House Public Health Committee, which was conducting an interim study on how to address the state’s prescription drug abuse problem. “And it’s going to do more if we don’t take some action against it.”

The number of drug-related deaths in Oklahoma climbed from 344 in 2001 to 808 in 2010, the most recent year for which complete data was available, according to the bureau’s statistics. About 80 percent of those deaths are from prescription drugs, Weaver said.

Rep. Richard Morrissette, who requested the study, said he has unsuccessfully introduced bills to reclassify hydrocodone as a more restricted drug and make it mandatory for physicians to reference the state’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Program before writing prescriptions for certain drugs.

“In the time since both measures failed, physicians have continued to prescribe these medications at record setting levels,” said Morrissette, D-Oklahoma City. “My immediate concern now is for those patients addicted to the medications, their access to motor vehicles and the potential for disaster on our roadways.”

Morrissette also said Oklahoma should consider joining 17 other states that have adopted “per se” laws that make it illegal to have any prohibited substance or drug in the body while driving.

“Forewarned is forearmed, and to do nothing less leaves everyone on our roadways exposed to significant risks from a population under the influence,” he said.

Oklahoma also could use more officers on the street who are trained drug recognition experts, said Jim Maisano, a Norman police officer who conducts a training seminar once a year with funding from the National Highway Safety Office.

Oklahoma has about 190 trained drug recognition experts from about 57 law enforcement agencies, Maisano said. A $30,000 grant typically covers training for between 20 and 30 officers.

Officers trained in how to detect different kinds of drug use can prepare reports to accompany blood tests and lead to the successful prosecution of drivers under the influence of drugs.

“We have cases where a guy would blow 0.0 on the breath test, but you could look at him and know he’s obviously on something,” Maisano said. “We help document the impairment to show the person couldn’t drive the vehicle safely.”

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Sean Murphy can be reached at www.twitter.com/apseanmurphy

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