Former OBN agent, committee discusses opioid issues in Carter County

Ari James /
Dub Turner, a now retired agent from the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics, speaks  Thursday evening during the Carter County Substance Abuse Prevention Committee's talk on opioids and State Question 788.

Oklahoma is no stranger to the dangers of addictions and pharmaceutical abuse.

Thursday evening, the Carter County Substance Abuse Prevention Committee hosted a talk on opioids and State Question 788.

The speaker for the event was Dub Turner, a now retired agent from the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and co-presenter August Rivera.

Turner gave an overview of street and pharmaceutical drugs such as heroin and opioids to the audience of 5-6 committee members and community agency representatives.

“I was shocked to see that the highest concentration of drug use was not among the 0-17 or even 18-25 age range,” said Turner. “But in those ages 46-55. This is people my age just saying, you know, ‘I give up, I’m reaching for the pills.’ And that’s kinda scary.”

Turner said there were 12 overdose deaths in Carter County in 2017, eight of which were reported to be opioid related -- excluding heroin. Heroin, Turner said, is the go-to for those who can’t get their hands on prescription opioids.

“It’s the next best thing,” Turner said.

The majority of the deaths with illicit substances involved, Turner said, were due to a “cocktail” of drugs. The deeper question, according to Turner, is addressing the issue before the drugs are involved.

“What makes Carter County, or Oklahoma, so bad that people are reaching for the drugs?” Turner said.

In his presentation, Turner said some of the synthetic drugs like Fentanyl or Carfentanyl are exponentially stronger than common medical grade pharmaceuticals like morphine. Turner said those at the highest risk for heroin addiction are those addicted to prescription painkillers, cocaine, marijuana or alcohol, those without insurance and 18-25 year old non-hispanic white males. Use of heroin, Turner said, doubled between 2007 and 2012, and the rate of heroin overdose more than tripled from 2010-2015. A spike in the number of overdose deaths since 2014 has been linked to heroin laced with fentanyl, said Turner.

“We blame a lot of the nation’s heroin problem on Mexico,” Turner said, “But prior to World War I, the United States’s main supplier of opiates was China.”

Turner said the U.S. imported the poppy-plant-based drug from Chinese farmers to be used as pain medication. After the German and Japanese military forces cut the supply lines, Turner said, the U.S. military began paying Mexican farmers to cultivate the plant for medicinal use for soldiers. “They just never quit growing it,” Turner said. China is also credited with the manufacturing of other synthetic drugs, including fentanyl, a newer drug which has been implicated in a rapidly rising number of the overdose deaths throughout the East Coast.

Turner said a large number of overdoses have been caused by the unknown quantity and contents of various illicit substances, which, like fentanyl, have been packaged for sale in formulas that appear to be candy, such as a case in Lexington, Okla. where fentanyl was sold in the form of a “fruit roll up.”

The discussion then turned to SQ 788 and the concern by opponents of the proposed legislation that the addictive benefits would outweigh any potential risks.

“If this goes the same way as big tobacco,” Rivera said, “Those saying [marijuana] has medical benefits now could be sued.”  

A representative from Lighthorse Behavioral Health, Donna Dixon, was on hand to discuss Narcan, or naloxone, the pharmaceutical “antidote” for opioid overdose, often used by first responders and emergency room staff in response to possible overdose. For those who have not used opioids, the substance does nothing, but for an opiate user who is experiencing extreme distress, the substance knocks the opioid chemicals off the brain’s receptors, said Dixon, allowing the person to possibly survive the overdose. Narcan does not have any effect on non-opioid drugs like marijuana or cocaine.

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