According to one national study of more than 1,000 American students from the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, nine out of ten addicts had their first drink, cigarette, or drug before their 18th birthday. What’s more, nearly half of all high school students in the U.S. have used one of these substances at least once. This epidemic of underage substance use could be especially harmful to the future of the country.
After all, the teenage brain is still in the stages of maturation. Reasoning and judgement are still not fully developed by the time teens graduate high school. Exposing the developing brain to substance use at such a young age creates a vicious cycle in which young people use poor judgement when it comes to trying harmful substances, which further impairs their judgement and raises the risk for developing an addiction.
The Need for Oklahoma Alcohol & Drug Rehab
In Oklahoma, almost 28% of sixth graders have drank alcohol at least once. By eighth grade, that number rises to nearly 50%, and by 12th grade has reached 74%, this according to the 2016 Oklahoma Prevention Needs Assessment. By the time Oklahoma students reach 12th grade, more than 10% meet the criteria for needing drug or alcohol rehab. Oklahoma is not the only state exhibiting alarming statistics, but compared to the national average, Oklahoma skews more towards the disquieting
This same report from the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse found that teen substance abuse could be costing the nation an estimated $68 billion due to drinking alone, plus $14 billion in substance-use related juvenile justice costs. The total costs to the local, state, and federal government are estimated at nearly $1500 per person in the United States. According to Susan Foster, vice president and director pf policy research at the center, “The problem is not that we don’t know what to do. It’s that we are failing to act. It’s time to recognize teen substance use as a preventable public health problem and addiction as a treatable medical disease.” The areas in which Oklahoma ranks worse than the national average according to the survey are as follows:
- Youth Binge Drinking
- Drug Related Crime
- Alcohol Related Mortality
- Youth Cocaine Use
- Adolescent Drinking and Driving
- Youth Inhalant Use
- Adolescent Cigarette Use
- Past Year Serious Mental Illness
- Past Year Alcohol Dependence
Killing Pain in Oklahoma
One of the most worrisome statistics that Oklahoma leads the nation in is abuse of prescription pain killing medication. Other states that rounded out the top 10 were Colorado, Alabama, Oregon, Arizona, Louisiana, Ohio, Virginia, Arkansas, and Maryland. According to the report, 4.95% of Oklahoman's age 12 and up have used prescription painkillers for non-medical purposes, and 10% of those age 18 - 25 have reported abusing prescription painkillers in the past year.
Oklahoma’s prescription drug abuse problem goes back to the roots of the painkiller epidemic. In 2009, unintentional poisoning from prescription drug overdose actually surpassed car crashes to be the state’s leading cause of unintentional injury deaths. Over the past 12 years, Oklahoma has seen the number of overdose deaths from powerful prescription painkillers more than double, with the number of deaths from hydrocodone and oxycodone more than quadrupling.
“The bottom line is, we’re witnessing this crisis, this silent cancer that is just growing,” says Darrell Weaver, director of the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control. “The direct and indirect costs are enormous. Incarceration chews up tax dollars. Business productivity plummets. Families crumble. Crime festers.”
The Cost of Addiction in Oklahoma
One yearlong study by a task force of Oklahoma lawmakers in 2005 found that Oklahoma pays more than $3 billion annually in direct costs related to untreated people with addiction and mental health disorders. When you take into account the far reaching implications of how untreated substance use disorders can inflict damage to communities, it becomes more pressing to find a solution that works. Taxpayers should strongly consider being willing to pay upfront costs for expanding treatment so that they don’t wind up footing a bill that will only grow larger and larger.
Another study by the Oklahoma Department of Corrections found that 44% of nonviolent prison admissions were for drug-related offenses. In 2010, 885 female prisoners were released who qualified for needing substance abuse treatment, and 72% did not receive. Offenders who are able to receive treatment for addiction post release from prison are much less likely to return to prison. Tax dollars in Oklahoma should be going to funding treatment options, not for increasing incarceration and other punitive measures.
The Cost of Teen Substance Abuse
Youth substance use and addiction hurts more than just through the financial impact and physical damage to the developing brain. It also harms friends and family members as well. One family in rural Oklahoma struggled to watch as their son moved to college with a worsening addition. Kirk (name changed) explains that his son came home seeming to have changed.
“I thought he was only abusing marijuana. It was shocking to learn he had an addiction to pain pills...His physical appearance had changed for the worse. He was lying to me. He had several minor traffic accidents and tickets. His possessions and his money went missing, and he started isolating himself. My wife and I both had to learn a new way to interact with our son. We soon realized most of our ‘helping’ our son was actually allowing his addiction to continue. … Dealing with our son’s addiction was one of the most stressful events in our lives.”
Kirk recommends that other Oklahoma parents follow their gut and confront their child if they believe that there could be a hidden drug problem. Kirk’s own son relapsed after entering rehab, and Kirk was forced to come to terms with the ups and downs of the recovery process, as well as to learn how to take care of himself. It can feel like the addiction of a loved one, especially a child, forces cracks and stress to appear in other areas of life such as relationships, finances, and more.
Oklahoma Teen Drug Use Prevention
One of the keys curbing the addiction problem for youth in Oklahoma is working on preventative measures that get the message out to youth and their families in a way that resonates. For example, the Eagle Ridge Institute in Oklahoma has been offering prevention programs for more than 25 years and even has a residential treatment center that serves mothers and children in one Oklahoma County. The program draws on community leaders, law enforcement officials, and community members in order to brainstorm and implement prevention methods that will work.
August Riviera is the community outreach preventionist. “Currently, our focus is to create programs addressing substance use by having youth help us create those programs. We feel if the message is coming from peers, most adolescents will pay attention to it more. Our hope is that this adult-guided youth coalition will create a message that adolescents would be more responsive to.”
Ultimately, the goal is to ensure that adolescents have information about drugs and alcohol that is correct and shows the whole picture so that they can make educated and safe decisions about substance use. Part of that also involved combating the image presented in popular media that may glorify and promote substance abuse. A difficult aspect of this can be presenting the dangers of marijuana when it has become legal in several states and become more accepted in popular culture. Nowadays, marijuana can be extremely potent and lead to serious short term and long term mental health and behavioral issues.
Law Enforcement in Oklahoma
Besides programs that confront youth with the realities of substance use, other entities such as law enforcement play their part in preventing youth addiction from spiraling out of control. One program, called “Explore”, kids who aspire to work in law enforcement are given the chance to do ride along's and learn from police officers themselves about drug enforcement and the stories they have. While law enforcement can do their part in educating and warning kids about the dangers of prescription and street narcotics, it’s ultimately down to the parents to create a home environment where drug and alcohol use is discussed openly and honestly.
Substance Abuse Treatment and Rehab in Oklahoma
Currently, there are anywhere from 600 to 900 Oklahoman's on a waiting list any given day to land a bed within a state funded residential treatment center. According to SAMHSA, more than 160,000 Oklahoman's and 20,000 teenagers are in need of treatment for drug and alcohol addiction. Unfortunately, the majority simply won’t get it. To qualify for state-funded treatment, an individual needs to have no other mean to pay and no assistance, which excludes anyone who has private insurance. Being on a wait list has its drawbacks as well. A lot can change for someone in the weeks and months it may take to get a bed and finally get detoxed. Overdose, incarceration, change of heart… There are simply too many barriers to entering treatment that can stop someone from entering rehab if they are placed on a wait list.
Treatment options need to become available to everyone, not just those who can afford it. After all, addiction doesn’t discriminate across race, gender, or economic lines. Whether it’s suburban kids finding pills in medicine cabinets to returning Veterans taking pain medications for injuries sustained overseas, narcotics can hook anyone. Especially if they are mixed into a lethal cocktail, which often happens for individuals who use these drugs recreationally. Mixing opioids with benzodiazepines and adding alcohol to the mix makes for a dangerous combination. The following drugs were the most commonly abused substances in Oklahoma in 2012:
Most Commonly Abused Prescription Drugs
Amphetamine (Adderall, Dexedrine) - Stimulant
Methamphetamine (Desoxyn) - Stimulant
Methylphenidate (Ritalin, Concerta) - Stimulant
Fentanyl (Duragesic Patches) - Painkiller
Hydromorphone (Dilaudid) - Painkiller
Meperidine (Demerol) - Painkiller
Methadone (Dolophine, Methadose) Painkiller
Morphine (MS Contin) - Painkiller
Oxycodone (Percocet, OxyContin) - Painkiller
Hydrocodone (Lortab, Vicodin) - Painkiller
Anxiety Relief/Tranquilizer/Sleep Aids
Alprazolam (Xanax) - Anxiety Relief
Diazepam (Valium) - Anxiety Relief/Tranquilizer
Lorazepam (Ativan) - Anxiety Relief
Meprobamate (Equanil, Miltown) - Anxiety Relief/Tranquilizer
Zolpidem (Ambien) - Sleep Aid
Prescription Monitoring in Oklahoma
An online prescription monitoring program has been in place in Oklahoma since being advocated for by the Oklahoma Commission on Opioid Abuse. Since January 1st of 2012, pharmacists must enter data for every schedule drug prescription within five minutes of filing it. The whole system is designed to help flag patients who are engaging in “doctor shopping”, a common practice wherein patients elicit multiple prescription from several doctors in order to load up on prescription medications.
One example of brazen doctor shopping occurred when an Oklahoman man obtained over 4500 doses of prescription drugs from nearly 200 different healthcare providers. Thanks to the prescription drug monitoring program, instances like this can be quickly identified and flagged. More amendments are added to the legislation all the time to make the program more effective, requiring doctors to check each patient and even placing automatic alerts on patients that meet criteria.
To adequately address the nation’s rising crisis of deaths relating to suicide, alcohol, and drug use will require a comprehensive treatment approach that involves health care systems, communities, and businesses to rally and face the problem head-on. At Landmark Recovery, we incorporate leading techniques and methods for giving the highest quality rehab available to our patients. Our program is built on a foundation of love and support. Our drug rehab in Oklahoma is fully equipped and staffed to help you or a loved one overcome a substance dependency.