OKLAHOMA CITY, Oklahoma – (March 17, 2016) – We’ve seen it a countless number of times. An innocent prescription turns deadly for 40 people every day in the United States. But in Oklahoma, which ranks 10th in overdoses nationwide, some doctors say new guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control aren’t practical, and could do more harm than good.
The CDC has issued a warning to doctors, asking them to prescribe opiates like morphine or oxycodone only when absolutely necessary, recommended they use drugs like Tylenol or Ibuprofen first. It’s a guideline the Oklahoma Pain Society believes will get in the way of treating patients.
“It could be a nightmare,” Dr. Stephen Wilson told News On 6 in a phone interview this week. “It’s what happens when you let the government get too involved and it’s overly stringent and it’s not really practical in clinical terms for most pain physicians.”
But others feel it will curb promiscuous painkiller prescriptions, and save lives. Prescription drug monitoring systems, which provide a database for doctors to check before prescribing these drugs, were also rejected by doctors who called the process too time consuming. A bill was passed last year that requires doctors in the state to check the database before the first time a patient is prescribed opiates like hydrocodone, as well as benzodiazepines such as Xanax.
These types of regulations cut down on doctor shopping, and save addicts from obtaining large amounts of the drugs to support an addiction or even resale. But Oklahomans are also seeking to reduce recidivism in the state.
Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform is hoping to receive 65,000 signatures by June to put 2 measures before voters in November. Both measures surround prison overcrowding and reducing sentences for low-level, nonviolent crimes.
Former State House Speaker Kris Steele, who heads up the initiative, says the first initiative would reclassify low-level offenses to misdemeanors. Currently, multiple offenses can result in a felony and incarceration. The second measure, he says, would take the money saved from these offenders not going to prison, and distribute it to counties in the state to fund treatment services and supervision.
“These sentencing reforms have already been implemented in other states that are achieving and even surpassing the projected outcomes,” Steele told Oklahoma Watch. “We’re not plowing new ground. We’re basing policy objectives on what we know is effective and what is working in other states. We’re trying to address the root causes of criminal behavior.”
Steele says it’s not uncommon for a person to steal to feed a habit, or because of mental illness. If you can address the root causes behind the activity, the behavior will change.
“Often when a person is stealing, they’re doing that to feed a habit. So what we’re trying to get at is addressing the root cause of the behavior,” said Steele.
The group has until June 7 to collect the signatures needed to put the state questions on the ballot. Steele says they need to differentiate between individuals who need treatment, and those who actually pose a danger to society. The budget for corrections has grown nearly 200% in the past 2 decades, and it’s still in need of more money.
It costs $17,000 a year to house an inmate in the state of Oklahoma. The average annual cost of an opiate addiction can reach into the hundreds of thousands. It’s free to call Vertava Health, and depending on insurance and scholarships available, someone can potentially be placed in a program in less than 24 hours with no out of pocket expense. We ask that the good people of Oklahoma do the math, and sign these measures.