Governor Mary Fallin on How To Solve Oklahoma’s Prescription Drug Epidemic

politics-drugs“One of the biggest barriers to success for people who have had felonies was to check a box on a job application that you’ve been convicted of a felony. We took that off our employment applications for the state of Oklahoma.”

As communities throughout the country struggle to find solutions for prescription drug misuse and growing opioid-related overdoses, Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin has been one of the most proactive Republican leaders to address the crisis in her state. Governor Fallin has consistently championed drug courts and alternative sentencing for nonviolent drug offenders, such as “Women in Recovery,” a diversion program that provides services and treatment for Tulsa women with alcohol and drug addictions. She has also worked to repeal mandatory minimum sentences for first and second drug offenses and reduce maximum sentences, earning her praise from groups such as Families Against Mandatory Minimums.

In your 2015 State of the State, you pointed out, “Oklahoma ranks at the top of the nation for prescription drug abuse.” Why do you think this is the case, and how can this problem be effectively addressed?

Oklahoma has had a high rate of prescription drug abuse, and the rate of people in Oklahoma who die from overdoses from prescription pain pills stands at about 12 deaths per 100,000 people. Between the years 2007 and 2013, we know that 3 out of 4 unintentional poisoning deaths happened because of prescription drugs. As governor, I saw that as a problem facing the state, and I wanted to bring more public education attention to the issue. I also wanted to encourage the state legislature, along with our substance abuse and mental health agency, to try to address unintentional poisoning deaths from prescription pain pills.

Frankly, we want to encourage people to come forward that need help with addiction issues. A key part of such encouragement is education programs that raise awareness in the general public. Oklahomans need to see that there not only is a problem, but a solution as well.

Your latest state budgets are highlighted by what you describe as “performance informed budgeting” that focuses on dedicating funds to properly address the real problems of Oklahomans, like prescription drug abuse and the overdose epidemic. Are you breaking ranks with conservatives by dealing with these problems in a manner that focuses on treatment and recovery as opposed to enforcement?

There’s a great movement going on throughout our nation within both political parties, and I am very proud of Republican efforts to work on the substance abuse and addiction issue. I had the opportunity to speak with two of my fellow Republican governors on a panel about the great work being done in Kentucky and Georgia, along with Oklahoma, on how to effectively address prescription drug abuse and recovery efforts, particularly the use of drug courts and mental health courts. We are also working on prescription drug monitoring programs to help stop what we call “doctor shopping” in our various states.

I believe it’s a bipartisan issue that all people are interested in addressing. Addiction is not an issue that strikes one political party or persuasion. Of course, it has no boundaries as it relates to income, race, or socioeconomic standards of living because it can affect everyone. It’s an issue I believe the whole nation needs to be talking about because it can ruin lives, it can keep people out of employment, and it leads to terrible outcomes for people like a fall into criminal behavior and prison.

One of the reasons why I highlighted this problem when presenting my performance informed budgeting was to set goals; specific measurable things that we could accomplish in the state. We needed to be able to determine if the money that we were spending on certain programs actually achieve the outcomes that we want, as opposed to the outcomes that we hope we might get. Read more “the fix”…

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