Area organizations who combat the damage dealt by opioid abuse will meet for the first time next month in hopes of finding answers and allies.
Law enforcement, mental health professionals, prevention and rehabilitation specialists will meet at the Mercy Hospital Conference Center for a meeting organized by OSU Research. Lisa Jackson, a PFS prevention coordinator with Wichita Mountains Prevention Network in Ardmore, said OSU Research chose Ardmore because of its high saturation of prescription pain medication.
“As of the last update, as far as overdose deaths and prescriptions, Carter County is fourth in the state,” Jackson said.
Ardmore has the second-highest number of opioids prescribed yearly in the state. The number does not distinguish between Ardmore residents and people who come to Ardmore for medical treatment and medication, but live in other cities. Jayci Enerson, communications director at WMPN, said rural counties with low populations often show up as high-saturation areas, where high amounts of pills are prescribed to fewer people.
“Carter is in the top five for a lot of those related issues,” Enerson said. “Bryan is in the top 15.”
The first meeting will focus on defining the problem as it exists in Ardmore, followed by two presentations. OBN and WMPN will present. Lock boxes, mental health programs, drop boxes and other measures are all active within Carter County, but the goal of the meeting is to bring all those elements together.
Southern Oklahoma Treatment Services, Lighthouse Behavioral Wellness, and other local groups considered key stakeholders are the primary target.
“They basically made a list of who all should be at the table to get a live picture of what’s going on in Ardmore,” Enerson said. “That’s schools, counseling, everyone who needed to be there to have a say in it.”
The meeting will also cover the Oklahoma Naloxone initiative, a state program dedicated to supplying first responders with naloxone kits and training them to use them quickly to prevent fatal overdoses.
Jackson said there are several organizations in the state, some local, that offer the kits to citizens for free. The kits can mean the difference between life and death if someone in their household is overdosing. Southern Oklahoma Treatment Services and Lighthouse carry them locally.
“They are doing demand-side, supply-side, treatment and overdose prevention - they’ve broken it into those categories,” Enerson said.
The meeting will also include focus groups to gauge awareness of different parts of the crisis, and what the best approach for combating it locally might be.
“Our goal would be for more people to know what we do,” Enerson said. “And that people see that there are multiple sides to this issue, and we need all these things to make it better.”
Lisa Jackson said the meeting will also hopefully bridge gaps between each organization and get them better acquainted.
“You have key stakeholders, and they can take that knowledge to their clients and community members,” Jackson said.
Jackson said in the last year she’s seen an encouraging shift in the public’s attitude toward the opioid epidemic, even if Oklahoma hasn’t yet taken the same steps to combat the issue that others states have.
“I think there’s been an increase in knowledge in Carter County,” Jackson said. “People are starting to realize there is a problem.”
Both said that many still don’t fully understand the damage prescription medication can do, how easy it is to abuse and how it can lead to other addictions, because they’re prescribed by doctors and appear safer.
“There’s a low perception of harm,” Enerson said. “If your friend says their back is hurting, you may offer your friend something. It’s considered normal, and people don’t see it as a big deal.”