More people die from drug overdoses in our area than in most other places across the country.
830 people were found dead due to a drug overdose in Oklahoma last year alone, according to the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics. More than three-fourths of those people, abusing prescription drugs like Hydrocodone, OxyContin and Vallium.
“I think statewide it’s become a huge problem with the prescription drugs,” said LeFlore County Sheriff Rob Seale. ” I don’t know we’re going to put a stop to it. I mean as long as doctors are prescribing those kinds of drugs for genuine illnesses or injuries, people are going to find a way to abuse them.”
“Prescription drug abuse is an epidemic in Oklahoma,” said Mark Woodward, the spokesperson for the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics. “It’s unnecessary and unsafe to leave outdated drugs in the house. Old, expired medications left in the home can be targeted by users. Teenagers also target their parent’s current or expired prescription drugs to abuse, trade or sell in order to obtain alcohol, marijuana or other drugs.”
But the pill problem does not stop at the state line. Even though the death rates are much higher in Oklahoma which comes in at number five for drug overdose death rates across the United States, Arkansas ranks 25th. Since 1999, drug overdose rates in Arkansas have doubled; whereas in Oklahoma, they’ve tripled.
“What happens is the individuals will self-medicate and overdose themselves and then drift off in to a sleep and their friends or whoever they`re partying with will not be aware that they`re having respiratory problems and that`s when they`ll depress themselves into death,” explained Paul Smith, a narcotics detective with Fort Smith Police.
Narcotics agents said they’re specifically targeting teenagers hoping to get pill bottles out of their hands and put an end to the overdoses.
“Sadly, most of our overdose deaths here in Fort Smith and the surrounding areas are younger people and when we say younger we mean younger than 25,” Smith said.
“If it’s a teenager, and its something drug-related or alcohol-related, and they wind up in an accident or an overdose or something like that, that just reinforces it to us that we need to step it up a notch to try to combat it a little more because it strikes home with us,” Seale said. “I know it does with me.”
One way local agencies are working to get unwanted medication out of the home is by placing a drug disposal box outside sheriff’s departments and police stations.
“There is no way of knowing how many lives have been saved by getting these drugs out of home medicine cabinets around our state,” said Darrell Weaver, the director at the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics. “But I know this, if we save one life, it will be worth it.”
Federal health officials estimate 100 people die from drug overdoses every day in the United States. Experts say prescription painkillers lead to more deaths than cocaine and heroin combined.