Symptoms of opioid abuse can often resemble those of the flu.
Those dependent upon strong medication intended for pain relief might end up feeling worse from the nausea and an overall sickly state in their absence, said Arbuckle Life Solutions Director Kevin Bone. Bone and the staff at Arbuckle offer outpatient service for those dependent upon various substances.
“Opioids are too often prescribed,” Bone said. “There are non-narcotic pain medications out there. They just haven’t caught on yet.”
Carter County possesses one of the highest patient prescribed opioid rates in all of Oklahoma. From October 2016 to March 2017 the total number of unique residents prescribed opioids out of 48,556 residents in Carter County was 9,792, or just over 20 percent, according to prescription monitoring data released in November by the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health.
Carter County is also among 19 counties in Oklahoma that have anywhere from 55 to 81 per 1,000 residents with high-dose opioid prescriptions, according to the data, which could be as high as eight percent of county residents. Only Stephens and Johnston Counties in southern Oklahoma rival the rate in Carter County.
Yet, those who work to reduce instances of drug addiction in Carter County say this is nothing new.
Bone isn’t surprised by the numbers. Working in an industry focused on restoring normalcy in the lives of those constantly craving strong prescription drugs, he has seen how easy it is for patients to develop a demand and need for opioids. He has also seen how hard it is for these patients to escape its grasp.
“If they’re taking pills every day, like an opiate for pain, the likelihood of getting addicted to that is pretty high,” Bone said. “They end up needing higher doses to get the same relief. So (the addiction rate) is pretty rapid if people aren’t careful.”
Lisa Jackson, coordinator for Wichita Mountains Prevention Network in Carter County, said these drugs are often necessary because of the high number of physical laborers in rural stretches of the county. Wichita Mountains is a nonprofit substance abuse prevention agency that receives funds from state grant money to serve Oklahoma.
“I think people actually have chronic pain that needs to be monitored, some of these people need these drugs,” Jackson said.
Promotion of opioids in the past, Jackson believes, is why areas like Carter County continually sees growing rates of opioid usage and abuse. While these drugs offer needed relief in many cases, similar results can be met with certain combinations of over-the-counter medicine, she said.
Opiates have also adversely affected children, Jackson said.
 “Some kids who are school age just go into the cabinet and try them, or they get a prescription for some injury. They like the high, and they become addicted,” she said. “I think they’re prescribed too often.”
Outside of prescribed opioids, Jackson said many of these drugs are picked up from the streets.
Carter County Sheriff Chris Bryant thinks the state Legislature needs to take more steps to address the seemingly endless supply of controlled substances on the street.
Recent changes to drug laws due to State Questions 780 and 781 have continued to keep jails above capacity, according to Bryant.
“We need to have a better emphasis on the drugs that are killing people and that are so addictive. We need help, especially with the mental health element,” Bryant said. “Once those drugs get their hooks in you, you can’t get them out, and that is something we’ve seen only get worse over the years. We know the problems, now we need a solution.”
Bryant said in spite of continual overcrowding at the Carter County jail, expanding the  current capacity wouldn’t address the root of the problem, imploring  lawmakers to address the issues of mental health and drug abuse as the only workable solution to the issues facing the jail.
“I could expand (jail capacity) to 300 and I would probably have 375 people in the jail,” Bryant said. “The avenue of expanding isn’t the answer. The answer is everyone working together to find a solution to the mental health problem to help relieve the stress and the overcrowding issues that every jail in the state is having due to 780 and 781.”
Robby Short contributed to this article.