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There is an orange pill bottle, numerous white pills and three syringes spread across a white surface.
The CDC estimates the total economic burden of opioid misuse at $78.5 billion a year. (Photo by Julie Cullum)

Above the Influence

Monday, January 9, 2023

Media Contact: Kaitlyn Weldon | Digital Communications Specialist | 405-744-7063 |

Drug overdoses are the leading cause of accidental death in the U.S., and nearly half of those overdoses involve prescription opioids, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

In fact, overdose deaths in 2021 reached the highest on record, reaching nearly 108,000 deaths, according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention,

Individuals use opioids to manage pain from an injury, surgical or dental procedure, or joint damage, according toHHS.

Degenerative disease, autoimmune disease, cancer and infectious diseases also can trigger chronic pain requiring long-term pain management.

The most common types of opioids are oxycodone, hydrocodone, fentanyl, morphine and methadone, according to the CDC.

To reduce the impact of substance abuse and mental health illness on American communities, HHS created the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration in 1992.

Since September 2019, Oklahoma State University Extension has received $1 million in Rural Opioid Technical Assistance grants dispersed by SAMHSA.

“Southeastern Oklahoma, like so many rural communities, has a strong belief their faith can overcome anything,” said Paul Thomas, project manager for ROTA in Oklahoma, “but when your body becomes addicted to something, a struggle between the medical side and the philosophical side are at war with one another.”

OSU Extension and the OSU Center for Health Sciences’ Center for Wellness and Recovery partnered with the Choctaw Nation to educate six counties about the dangers of opioids.

Haskell, Latimer, Pushmataha, Choctaw, McClain and LeFlore counties were within the top 15 in the state with the most pressing opioid problems, according to the Oklahoma Department of Health.

The COVID-19 pandemic delayed OSU Extension from hiring ROTA educators and staff positions until the summer of 2020. The staff included four ROTA educators who were each responsible for different counties.

The grant resources made it possible to open the selection process outside of OSU Extension to allow the best candidate to be selected from each respective county, Thomas said.

“We partnered with the Tri-County Opioid Response Project through the LIFT Community Action Agency,” said Kris Bailey, Choctaw County ROTA educator. “We shared facts about opioid overdose deaths in our counties with the first responders.

“The Tri-County Opioid Response Project staff taught these first responders the signs of an overdose and how to use NARCAN,” Bailey added.

Naloxone, also known as NARCAN, is an opioid reversal agent. Once used, naloxone sends signals to intercept the brain receptors, so people do not feel cravings for their substance of choice. Naloxone can be applied through a canister into the nose or an injection into the arm.

“Time is crucial for an overdose,” said Jessica Ferguson, McCurtain County ROTA educator.

The main objectives of the ROTA program in Oklahoma are to provide support, education and resources to three audiences: (1) providers, physicians, and pharmacists; (2) families; and (3) the community. The educators shared resources with the community via Zoom conferences, seminars and informational booths.

They worked with first responders, students of all ages and other community members wanting to help positively impact the mental health stigma and opioid crisis, Thomas said.

“There is a stigma about mental health, especially in southeast Oklahoma,” Bailey said. “People aren’t seeking the help they need to deal with their mental health, so they self-medicate through substances like opioids.”

Many people are not aware of how easy one can become addicted to opioids, Bailey said.

Lifestyle changes and techniques within their control can help manage pain with fewer addictive substances or none at all, Bailey added.

“At some point, you will be presented with the opportunity to take opioids home,” said Hannah Rea, a ROTA educator in Latimer and Pushmataha counties. “Making the public more aware of safely handling opioids and looking for the signs of addiction is important.”

The SAMHSA grant was used for educational programs and resources, such as OK to HOPE, United We Can and Power to Decide. The classes spread awareness about the opioid crisis.

“United We Can is a four-week program designed to encourage positive thinking and healthy habits for families who have loved ones struggling with addiction,” Ferguson said.

With the help of SAMHSA and ROTA, people in the southeast area of Oklahoma have received the education and help they needed, Thomas said. Lots of work still needs to be done to help stop the opioid crisis, he said, but he hopes for the patience of people in the community and the health of those affected by substance abuse.

“This problem cannot be dealt with using guilt or shame,” he said. “People will come to understand substance abuse needs to be approached with compassion and accountability.”

Scared straight facts

  • 12 Oklahomans die every week from an unintentional drug
  • 40% of those individuals did not have a history of previous substance misuses.
  • 100 Oklahomans are hospitalized each week for a drug overdose.
  • Of every 100 hospitalizations each week, 25% involve
  • Adults aged 45-64 have the highest rate of hospitalization.
  • Methamphetamine is the most common substance involved in drug overdose deaths in

Source: ROTA

Story By: Julie Cullum | Cowboy Journal

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