A public forum hosted by OBN sharing the latest data on addictive drugs in Oklahoma came to Miami last Thursday sharing some shocking statistics on both the state and county level.
Editor's note: This is the first part in a month-long series of articles regarding Oklahoma, Ottawa County, and Miami's drug issues. Part Two in next Tuesday’s MNR will address State Question 788.
MIAMI – Top Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics experts gave an overview of the state's drug problems to a large turnout last Thursday night of Miami and area residents at the “Current Oklahoma Drug Threats” public forum at the Coleman Ballroom.
“Our goal tonight is to share some information with you about drugs that are impacting the state of Oklahoma, how they're impacting your community and some of the programs we have in place to try to arrest the drug issues that are in your community,” OBN Director John Scully said.
Miami Chief of Police Thomas Anderson, lead Miami Narcotics Investigator Mark Byfield, Ottawa County Sheriff Jeremy Floyd and Assistant District Attorney Jennifer McAffrey were all in attendance and acknowledged by Scully for their tireless work and cooperative efforts with the OBN.
“We can't do it alone we have to depend on municipal agencies and sheriff's agencies to help us. I want to thank all of you citizens for coming out here tonight and being a part of this. Your presence here tonight with us, to listen to what we have to say, shows all of us, and your leaders, that you care about your community and you want to make a difference. We can't do it without you either,” Scully said. “The outlook for us, we have to keep our foot on the gas at OBN and all of our law enforcement partners throughout the state."
Using data compiled in the OBN's yearly Oklahoma Drug Threat Assessment with information and intelligence gathered from law enforcement and partnering agencies across the state a team of OBN Agents and Division Chiefs explained the submittal numbers.
Scully and OBN Chief Mel Woodrow said meth is pouring across the Mexican/American border since 2010 by an increase of 305 percent and the purity has increased by 64 percent while the price has decreased by 57 percent.
“That’s a recipe for disaster,” Scully said.
“Methamphetamine is our biggest illicit drug threat,” Woodrow said. “It is in every corner of Oklahoma, every community affecting hundreds and hundreds of lives. It's horrible. We’ve got more meth on the streets than we ever had before.”
Clandestine meth labs have declined since the '90s with a high then of 1,200 meth labs seized in one year. Subsequent stricter state pseudoephedrine, a key ingredient in meth, sales laws decreased meth lab manufacturing, but the availability of meth is still greater than ever in Oklahoma, according to Woodrow.
“Overnight our meth labs dropped because of that law, it killed meth labs in Oklahoma,” he said. “What's happening now is we've got these huge industrial labs across the border in Mexico. They're just pounding out meth all the time. We have more meth on the streets in Oklahoma than we have ever had in history. It's cheaper, it's better and it's everywhere. It's flooding the United States.”
Data proves the point, meth labs seized in 2013 numbered 422 dropped to 65 lab seizures in 2016. Yet meth submittals seized in Oklahoma climbed from 6,351 in 2013 to 10,027 by 2016, meth overdose deaths rose from 169 to 335.
Opioid-related overdoses now claim the most lives in the state from drug abuse, killing 435 Oklahomans in 2016, and the illicit use of prescription drugs has reached a frenzied epidemic level, according to OBN Agent In Charge Beau Ratke.
“Here’s what we have to watch out for, we don’t want to happen with heroin what happened with meth,” Scully said.
Ratke told the crowd, “One in 12 Oklahomans has abused prescription drugs. “In Ottawa County last year alone there were enough opioids prescribed to every man, woman, and child to account for 71 pills per person in Ottawa County,” Ratke said. “Prescriptions are going down, but quantities are going up.”
Ratke said opioid drugs are the primary pharmaceutical drugs diverted for illicit use. Oxycodone, Hydrocodone, Alprazolam, Fentanyl, Morphine, Diazepam, and Methadone are the most commonly obtained by fraud or forgery and present in overdose deaths in Oklahoma.
“When we talk about drug diversion in law enforcement, that is taking a legal drug, prescription drugs, and selling it on the street, maybe somebody’s it gotten from a doctor, from a pharmacy or is hoarding prescriptions, whatever it may be if the drug was once legal and is now illegal it is diversion,” he said.
The 2016 data indicates a climb to 5,469 pharmaceutical submittals from 4,943 in 2013.
Ratke explained Fentanyl, a very, very potent synthetic opioid, has become increasingly illegitimately used and is being converted and mixed or cut with Heroin or pressed into counterfeit pills. The drug is highly lethal; just two milligrams can kill. Ratke said they have received reports of addicts taking patches from hospitals, nursing home patients or the deceased in morgues.
“With that comes a high risk of overdose death. It’s so deadly, it’s so powerful,” he warned. “In 2017 we seized our first fentanyl lab in Cleveland County in Oklahoma. Tulsa PD also seized one as well recently.”
Marijuana is the most widely and commonly used illicit drug in the U.S. and Oklahoma. An estimated 22.2 million people in the U.S. or about 8.3 percent of the U.S. population are current users.
Oklahoma reported 6,561 submittals in 2016.
Marijuana remains illegal in Oklahoma and under federal law, although many states have approved the cultivation, possession, and use of marijuana.
As other states have legalized marijuana, we’ve seen a change in marijuana,” OBN AIC Frank Williams said.
The OBN presentation went into detail about the drug and its components of psychoactive Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and non-psychoactive Cannabinoid oil (CBD oil).
“Some folks don’t think that CBD is legal, believe it or not, Oklahoma law several years ago, if you have pure CBD, no detectable THC, pure CBD is a legal product in Oklahoma,” Williams said. “If it has a detectable amount to three-tenths of one percent THC concentration it’s legal with a doctor’s note and recommendation of a doctor.”
Hybridization has cultivated increasingly higher grade much more potent marijuana with THC level on the rise form 3.75 percent in 1995 to 10.69 percent in 2015, now averaging 15 to 20 percent with the highest reaching 37.20 percent THC.
“We’re also seeing marijuana brought in from these other states that have legalized it in one form or another in a higher concentration,” Williams said. “We seized 1,490 pounds in Oklahoma of marijuana from vehicles traveling Oklahoma Interstates.”
Ingested edibles forms of marijuana cause issues when users ingest higher concentrations, according to Williams.
Oklahoma voters will be asked to vote on a proposal, State Question 788: Medical Marijuana in Oklahoma on June 26. (See Tuesday’s Miami News-Record for more information on State Question 788 with local insights.)
Due to meth’s popularity, stimulant drug cocaine’s presence has been slowly declining in Oklahoma.
“We still see it in powerful, powerful forms,” Williams said. “Seizures have dropped from 556 in 2013 to 496 in 2016. It’s typically imported from our southwest borders.”
Smokeable powder cocaine is the most popular in Oklahoma with crack cocaine prevalent mostly in metro cities.
“It’s very difficult to separate out heroin and the opioids, the two problems are intertwined to a large degree,” Williams said. "With better state pharmaceutical diversion opioid addicts turn to heroin, which is easier and cheaper to obtain."
Mexican Drug Trafficking Organizations are also contributing to the increased availability of heroin in Oklahoma, according to the OBN.
Heroin submittals rose from 124 in 2013 to 442 in 2016 and admissions for treatment nearly doubled from 504 to 1,001.
A synthetic opioid, fentanyl, is being mixed into a powder and sold as powdered heroin and marked up for a large profit by drug dealers.
OBN’s Public Information Officer Mark Woodward then spoke on what the OBN and other Oklahoma Law Enforcement agencies efforts to combat these illegal drugs threatening the state.
Woodward said Oklahoma’s extensive highway system lends to Drug Trafficking Organizations importing and transporting drugs using semis, trucks, and other vehicles.
OBN reported seizures in 2016 in pounds of 1,491 marijuana, 26.12 of meth, 8.52 of heroin, 0.08 of cocaine and 895 pounds of prescription pills.
“I’m going to talk not just about what OBN, not just what our legislators are doing, but what can you as a citizen do to prevent some of this,” Woodward said.
Safe Trips for Scripts
Safe Trips for Scripts provides citizens a safe way to discard unused prescriptions by providing metal mailbox style bins in local police and sheriff’s stations. Launched in 2011, there are now 176 take-back boxes across Oklahoma with 160,000 plus pounds of unused prescriptions collected at no cost to residents.
The Miami Police Department and Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office both offer prescription drop off drug disposal bins at their headquarter locations.
“Bag up medicines that you no longer need and drop it in one of these prescription drug disposal boxes,” Woodward said.
Marijuana Eradication Program
OBN’s Aerial Marijuana Eradication program first deployed to fight marijuana cultivation once thriving in Oklahoma in the ‘80s proved to be a useful response, according to Woodward. In 1997 OBN seized 89,000 cultivated plants and by 2010 the average number of plants dropped to near 10,000. In 2016 OBN seized 1, 216 marijuana plants here.
“This program has been so successful that several other states have adopted it,” Woodward said. “We’re winning victories here.”
Eradication here has increased Mexican, Columbian, and Southeast Asia drug cartel's importation of marijuana along with other illicit drugs, according to Woodward.
“Because of our location and highway system we have kind of become prime real estate for Drug Trafficking Organizations and so a huge burden falls on Oklahoma law enforcement to get a lot of these drugs,” he said.
Reporting suspicious activity or signs of marijuana cultivation on rural properties is another way local residents can help, he said.
Oklahoma Drug Endangered Children Program
Oklahoma’s Drug Endangered Children Program, with the goal of reducing and eradicating child abuse and neglect related to drug abuse, received 40, 938 referrals Department of Human Services (DHS) from Nov. 2012 to March of 2016.
“So many times we’ve been in homes where we get the bad guys, seize the drugs and there are children living inside these homes,” Woodward said. “We don’t want to just pull the kids out of the house and call grandma, while she comes gets them and mom and dad bail out of jail and they go back to the house and grandma drops the kids off again – we haven’t solved any problem there. Too many of these kids end up on the front pages of our newspapers.”
The OBN works with other law enforcement, social service providers, medical and legal professionals, and members of non-profit agencies to advance evidence-based strategies in working with children exposed to drugs and drug environments.
Meth Waste Container Program
The OBN’s Meth Waste Container Program assists local law enforcement agencies with the safe disposal of toxic waste created by meth labs. Twelve waste containers alarmed and monitored sites strategically located across the state provide disposal of meth lab wastes saving valuable time and money for local agencies.
Prescription Monitoring Program
“Two of the biggest ways people are feeding their addictions are they come into your house and steal pills, number two is doctor shopping, going to multiple doctors and telling them they are in pain to get prescriptions,” Woodward said.
A prescription-dispensing database (OSTAR) of all controlled substances was established and made available in Oklahoma to physicians first in 1990, upgraded to the Internet in 2006 and real-time service by 2013.
In 2015 Oklahoma lawmakers mandated use of the Prescription Monitoring Program system by the medical community.
“So now if I go to a doctor here in Miami and claim my back’s in pain, prior to prescribing to me that doctor’s going to come to a laptop, take 26 seconds to run my PMP and see I’m also visiting a doctor in Sallisaw, Big Cabin, Vinita, and Tulsa in the last six weeks,” Woodward said as an example of how the system works. “It’s a way to intervene. This program in some form has been adopted in 49 other states.”
The numbers tell the tale of the problem in data collected, Hydrocodone prescriptions jumped from 191,548,748 in 2013 to 669,027,031 in 2016 and Oxycodone from 62,088,167 to 271,462,192.
In closing Woodward reiterated the importance of community involvement and assistance in helping law enforcement push back against Oklahoma’s drug epidemic.
“Call police if you see something suspicious, some of our best cases started with, ‘It’s probably nothing but I wanted to pass this along to you,'” he said. “Don’t hesitate to call, because you could be saving lives.”
Several residents in attendance asked questions to the OBN and other law enforcement members present. Those questions involved issues on drug education of youth, stricter enforcement of doctors providing large amounts of unwarranted opioid prescriptions, and the pending marijuana legislation.
“We can’t do this without you,” Scully said. “This is a great turnout, the best and the largest group we’ve had out, and we really appreciate this. We want to try and improve your communities any way we can.”
Scully said after the event, “I think that means people in this community care about their community. Number one we got the word out.”
Scully said State Question 780, which reclassified some drug and property crimes as misdemeanors created more challenges for Oklahoma law enforcement.
“Whenever some of the tools are taken out of our hands that we used to be able to use to get people off the streets, it creates challenges and makes our job more difficult,” Scully said.Step by Step Charts
Melinda Stotts is the associate editor of the Miami News-Record. She can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org or followed on Twitter @MelindaStotts1.