Preventing Prescription Drug Misuse

During 2010-2019, 265,576 deaths occurred nationwide due to opioid-related overdoses.*  Between 2015-2019, 3,996 Oklahomans died from unintentional poisoning deaths; and, 1,534 of those deaths involved an opioid.  In 2019, the most common prescription opioids associated with overdose deaths included Fentanyl, Oxycodone,  and Hydrocodone**

What are Opioids?

Opioids work on the nervous system in the body or specific receptors in the brain to reduce the intensity of pain. 

Prescription opioids can treat moderate to severe pain and are often prescribed following surgery or injury or health conditions such as cancer. In recent years, there has been a dramatic increase in the acceptance and use of prescription opioids to treat chronic, non-cancer pain, such as back pain or osteoarthritis, despite serious risks and the lack of evidence about their long-term effectiveness.

Opioids are being overprescribed. And it is not children reaching in medicine cabinets who have made drug poisoning the number one cause of unintentional death in the United States. Adults have been prescribed opioids by doctors and subsequently become addicted or move from pills to heroin.

Perhaps, even more alarming: 70% of people who have abused prescription painkillers reported getting them from friends or relatives. Most people don't know that sharing opioids is a felon.**

  • In 2016, there were over 250,000 visits to the hospital or emergency room related to unintentional opioid-related poisonings.***

  • Four out of five new heroin users started by misusing prescription painkillers.****

What is Fentanyl?

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is up to 100 times stronger than morphine. Fentanyl was created as a pharmaceutical therapy, for pain management for cancer patients. Fentanyl has a high risk for abuse because of its powerful opioid properties. Fentanyl comes in two varieties,  pharmaceutical fentanyl and fentanyl produced illegally.

Fentanyl can be in liquid or powder form. It is often combined with other drugs to increase its potency. Some examples include street drugs like heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine. It is also used to create pills that look like other prescription opioids. It can be used in its liquid form in nasal sprays, eye drops, and poured onto things like food. Because of its strength, some people purposely use it. It is also widely distributed among unaware users. Many people buy fentanyl under the impression that they are buying other drugs when they are truly buying fentanyl, which frequently leads to overdose deaths. It can be fatal even in little doses. Fentanyl may be present in drugs at lethal amounts, but you wouldn’t be able to detect it through sight, taste, or smell.*****

Some effects of fentanyl include:******

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Drowsiness

  • Confusion

  • Sedation

  •  Euphoria

  • Dizziness

Signs of overdose include:*******

  • Small, constricted pupillary size

  • Cold and clammy skin

  • Blue discoloration of the skin

  • Deep unconsciousness

  •  Slow, weak, or no breathing

  • Choking or gurgling sounds

  • Limp body

Naloxone can be used to rapidly reverse fentanyl overdose.

Tips on Preventing Prescription Drug Misuse

Research indicates that people who take opioid painkillers quickly can develop a tolerance to and dependence on this class of drugs. 

* Source: 2021 Carter County Oklahoma Epidemiological Profile

** Source: Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Danger Drugs 2020 Oklahoma Drug Threat Assessment

*** Source: CDC's Annual Surveillance Report of Drug-Related Risks and Outcomes - The United States, 2019

**** Source: The National Safety Council, "Prescription Drug Abuse," https://www.nsc.org/home-safety/safety-topics/opioids

***** Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Fentanyl Facts

****** Source: United States Drug Enforcement Administration, Drug Fact Sheet 2020

******* Source: United States Drug Enforcement Administration, Facts about Fentanyl