Oklahoma struggles with opioid crisis - KTEN.com - No One Gets You Closer

Oklahoma struggles with opioid crisis

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Opioids were created to help ease chronic pain, but health experts say too much of a good thing has now become an epidemic across the country — especially here in Texoma.

The reality is that painkillers are killing more than pain. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says 91 Americans die every day from overdosing on prescription drugs -- that's more than heroin and cocaine combined.

And according to the Mental Health Services Administration, Oklahomans misused opioids more than the residents of any other state last year.

We had over 899 overdose deaths related to just regular drugs, but over 68 percent of those were related to prescription opioids," said Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics Agent-in-Charge Chris Smith.

The Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse estimates that addiction costs the state $7.2 billion annually.

"This is very serious," said Jessica Pfau, executive director of Mental Health Services of Southern Oklahoma. "It is a crisis in Oklahoma."

But because of Oklahoma's ongoing budget shortfall, drug addicts and recovering drug addicts could be facing an even bigger problem: Mental health services say they don't have the money to maintain outpatient services.

Carter County Sheriff Chris Bryant says 95 percent of inmates in his jail are tied to opioid abuse, and he said all goes back to mental health.

"You get where you're feeling down and everything's against you and the world is against you and everything, and — all of a sudden — it kind of gives you this boost of euphoria and everything, and you're doing great," he said.

Experts say, painkillers are hurting more than healing. And they're hurting people of all races, all groups, and all ages.

"Everybody considered, for kids, alcohol and marijuana as the gateway drugs to other drugs," Smith said. "Now it's becoming prescription opioids. And that's their first experience to drugs. And unfortunately, it can be a very deadly experience."

The opioid epidemic has been called the next generation of HIV or the black plague. With more than 237,000 Oklahomans abusing opioids, some experts are concerned that it might be too late to fix the problem.

"Unfortunately, in some cases, the genie is out of the bottle, because it's hard to fix something this bad," Smith said.

But efforts to contain the problem continue nationally.

"Working together, we will defeat this opioid epidemic," President Trump promised as he declared the prescription pill crisis a nationwide public health emergency.  "We will defeat it."

Sheriff Bryant urged those dealing with the crisis to make a phone call and get the help they need.

"if you do something that is against the law, then we have to act on it," he said. "But if you have a problem with this stuff, let us know and we will be more than happy to help you get the mental health services that you need in order to help you fight this addiction."

Here are some of the agencies that can offer assistance:

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