With a massive opioid crisis, rising heroin use, narcotic trafficking, manufacturing and abuse and the consideration of the legalization of marijuana, officials from the state's Narcotics Bureau want to inform the public on current drug threats in Oklahoma.
A public forum hosted by officials with the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics is scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday, March 1 at the Coleman Theatre Ballroom located at 103 North Main Street in Miami.
“Our agency has developed a comprehensive Drug Threat Assessment that highlights the current climate of narcotic trafficking, manufacturing, and abuse in Oklahoma," OBN Director John Scully said. "This includes specific trends involving the opioid crisis and heroin abuse, methamphetamine importation and rise in meth overdoses, and emerging patterns with cocaine and marijuana.”
The forums are being offered to the public in several Oklahoma communities to inform and provide unique insight into the drug trends plaguing the state. OBN experts will present their information and then answer questions following their presentation.
“We'd love to have a good crowd there that night just to learn more about what are some of the drug issues impacting families, schools and communities in this day and age,” OBN Public Information, Education Officer, and Legislative Liaison Mark Woodward said. “We do a drug threat assessment of the state of Oklahoma and find out what the drug issues are.
"We decided to take the message out to various areas of the state, so we've been to Okmulgee, we've been to Woodward and we're planning to go to Lawton and Ardmore. This is our way to take the message to northeast Oklahoma and share information.”
Topics include the marijuana outlook, methamphetamine, heroin and prescription drug use.
“More importantly we will talk about what can the community do about it, what role they can play, and how to be more aware,” Woodward said.
The OBN completes a statewide assessment, the Oklahoma Drug Threat Assessment, annually but this is the first time OBN has taken the message out in the form of a public forum outside of presentations to civic groups, according to Woodward.
“The Oklahoma Drug Threat Assessment is a booklet of data complied throughout the state of Oklahoma on drug issues, everything from arrests, and what categories. Are they meth-related, marijuana, cocaine, heroin? It takes into consideration overdose statistics that we get from medical facilities as well as the State Medical Examiner's office,” Woodward said. “It takes into account statistics both on the local level and on the state level, also on the federal level. It kind of paints a picture of where we’re at.
"For example, 20 years ago we may have seen more meth labs than we’re seeing today, but fast forward to today, we’re seeing a lot of meth coming from Mexico, but we’re seeing very few meth labs. 20 years ago we saw a lot of marijuana cultivated in Oklahoma, now we’re seeing very little cultivated here but a lot of high-grade marijuana coming out of Mexico and also out of California. Heroin’s another big one we’ve seen in the last three to four years.”
Oklahoma law enforcement officials have seen a spike in heroin use caused by opioid and pain medicine addicts turning to street drugs to supplement their addiction, according to Woodward.
“Each year the assessment gives us an idea of how things are changing, what are the emerging trends, such as phentynol coming in from China now that’s being sold on the streets as heroin or oxycodone but in some cases are actually deadly forms of phentynol from China,” he said. “We learn all this from our other colleagues and agencies, from OSBI, the Highway Patrol, the local police, and sheriffs and compile all that data into the Oklahoma Drug Threat Assessment.”
Presenters will include different OBN experts covering different aspects of the drug threat.
“Our director will say a few words and talk about the threat assessment and we’ve got an expert in our agency who oversees our Diversion Section, which is diversion of prescription drugs to the streets, and he’ll talk about the opioid issue. I’m going to talk about some of the programs we have to combat the problem,” Woodward said. “It’s not just a night to talk about the problem, but also what are we doing about it as an agency, as a state, and what citizens can do.
"We’ve got another one of our chief agents who oversees our methamphetamine programs, he’s going to take a section on that and talk about what’s the climate of meth in Oklahoma. A lot of people think meth is down because meth labs are down in Oklahoma, but it’s our number one killer because there’s so much coming in from Mexico, they import ice or crystal meth.”
Safe disposal of prescription medications and simple ways to safeguard medicines at home will also be part of the forum.
“This is the first time we've actually initiated a public forum for those who might be interested to come out and learn what are some of the drug issues, and what can I as a parent, or school administrator, or maybe a business owner, how can I recognize it and what could I do about it if I suspect issues impacting them on a personal level,” Woodward said.
Part of OBN's program will include discussion of the results of Oklahoma State Question 780 that reclassified certain drug offenses, the marijuana issue, and other pending legislation.
“We don't take a side on it, but we certainly encourage people to research it and we kind of go over what are some of other state's concerns that they've seen since they've passed it, and what Oklahomans need to consider by voting,” Woodward said. “That's a small part of the program.”
Woodward said the biggest challenge in battling the drug threat is getting information and education out to raise awareness.
“Especially kids, if you can get kids to stay off drugs, they’re much more likely to become adults who stay off drugs,” he said. “You can change that cycle, but when we’ve got kids experimenting with marijuana nowadays at 11 and 12, a lot of them become adults who continue to use, and then they have kids. Often times we’re arresting second and third generations.”
Woodward said local law enforcement and the district attorney have been invited to participate.
The most important part of the public forum is at the conclusion giving the opportunity for attendees to ask questions, according to Woodward.
“We will open it up for questions and answers in the last 15 minutes, and of course we won’t leave until we’ve answered everybody’s questions,” he said.