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Every once-in-a-while, you have to pull out the B.S. Meter.
The Oklahoman’s Jaclyn Cosgrove reports today (10/19/15) a drop in prescription medication overdoses in the State of Oklahoma based on data collected by OSDH (Oklahoma State Department of Health) Injury Prevention Service. The drop was measured as a comparison between 2013 unintentional overdose deaths and those in 2014 . In 2013, 538 people died. In 2014, 510 people died, a difference of 28 deaths. The Executive Director of The Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics & Dangerous Drugs, R. Darrell Weaver, lauds this 5% decrease in deaths and seemingly takes credit for this effort. Not so fast!
OBNDD Executive Director Weaver was appointed in 2006. Overdose death rates have risen in Oklahoma at an average of 12% per year since that time, according to an Oklahoma Watch article by Warren Vieth (OklahomaWatch.org, 4/15/2015)
Sadly, a 5% decrease in deaths does not begin to make a dent in the War on Drugs. Oklahoma continues to remain at the top of the nation in drug abuse and overdose deaths. Claiming victory for the most meager of differences, which may not even be statistically or functionally significant, is a testimony to his questionable leadership of the agency charged with improving these statistics.
In the article, he is quoted as saying:
“Sometimes, I felt like ‘Oh my gosh — where’s the ceiling here?’
The “ceiling” that he is referring to is a leveling off of the death rates that has eluded his agency during his tenure.
The rush for the Bureau of Narcotics to pat itself on the back for the 5% drop in deaths must be tempered by some harsh realities that they are continuing to ignore, or perhaps, just haven’t considered or can’t quite figure out yet.
- Policy decisions advanced by the OBN have led to a 20% increase in Methampethamine death rates within the 1st year after the legislation to place restrictions on Pseudoephedrine (Sudafed), an over the counter allergy medicine that can be used to synthesize Meth. New policy = More dead Oklahomans.
- Despite the 5% drop in unintentional prescription medication death rates in the year ending in 2014, the highest month ever in the overall deaths were in April of 2014. This suggests as the availability of prescription narcotics decreased, the shift in abuse moved to other drugs. (i.e. street drugs like cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine). Indeed, the total overdose death number ( which includes those related to prescription drugs and those related to illicit drugs) rose by about 5% from 821 deaths to 864. Looking at the data another way, 28 less prescription deaths, but 43 more non-prescription (street drug) overdose deaths.
- The Oklahoman article also reports that in Tulsa, Naloxone, a medicine which reverses narcotic intoxication or overdose, was used in 23 cases to prevent overdose death by police officers. Had they not administered Naloxone, the number of deaths statewide would have been even higher, possibly obliterating any significant change in prescription overdose death statistics and making non-prescription overdose deaths even higher. Naxolone use outside of Tulsa may be the only explanation for the prescription overdose being lowered, not any specific intervention by OBN.
So, we’re calling BS.
In summary, nothing really changed, except for the charlatan spirit making a big deal out of a problem that was not solved or improved. It simply shifted, and still worsened.
The only thing that is probably rising faster than the average death rates is ironically the Executive Director’s salary.
And we’re paying for it….