Expert tells NSU students Oklahoma is in the third wave of the third opioid epidemic

TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — Teaching the next generation of social workers how to help families and children combat the opioid epidemic is not an easy subject matter to tackle.

But it’s one that Northeastern State University in Tahlequah addressed at the W. Roger Webb auditorium on Friday.

The NSU Social Work Department and Haruv Institute presented a workshop on the influence of the opioid epidemic on children.

Students enrolled in NSU’s social work department took part in the lectures and question and answer sessions along with professionals in attendance who are already working with families and children.

The experts who took to the stage did not hold back when it came to addressing the reality of the opioid epidemic in Oklahoma.

“More people will die today than died yesterday,” said Jason Beaman, Chair of Psychiatry at Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences, “more people are going to die tomorrow than died today, this is only getting worse.”

Beaman didn’t mince words when talking with future clinicians about the opioid epidemic in Oklahoma. FOX23 had a chance to talk with him on the sidelines of the workshop.

“We’re currently in the third wave of the third opioid epidemic that has now evolved into a drug overdose epidemic,” he said, “because it’s not limited to opioids anymore.”

“In Oklahoma specifically we’re seeing the most amount of overdoses from methamphetamine –often the methamphetamine is mixed with an opioid like fentanyl.”

Beaman says laws enacted in 2018 combined with a push by the medical community to reduce the number of opioid prescriptions written by doctors have made a difference. But he says opioid prescriptions have been supplanted:

“Those overdoses have plummeted,” he remarked, “unfortunately during that time we were supplanted with heroine and fentanyl and so overdoses remain high even though prescriptions are less.”

Beaman said fentanyl is very deadly and unforgiving. The impact on families was the thrust of Friday’s workshop for the future clinicians and local professionals who gathered on campus.

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Sara Coffey is the director of clinical operations for Oklahoma DHS child welfare.

“Oklahoma has a bit of a stigma against that, we often are much more punitive and so people are going to jail and so they’re not getting the treatment that they need,” she said. “And so if we can approach it in a really compassionate manner and make sure that we are using treatment as opposed to punitive measures so that folks get the help that they need that can be extremely impactful,” Coffey said.

For Northeastern State University student Lisa Grimes, who is also a foster and adoptive parent, these lessons are personal:

“Neglect has been the biggest one when parents are abusing drugs,” she explained when asked about her personal experience as a foster parent. “They can spend lots of time sleeping and not caring for their children,” Grimes said.

Grimes said another experience she’s had included physical abuse of children by a parent who doesn’t have the drug to calm them down.

Grimes also said a child’s removal from the home causes the additional trauma of being removed from their family.

At the workshop attendees learned that in 2019, Oklahoma ranked 8th nationally in proportion of removals due to parental substance abuse.

The social work program at NSU is unique in that offers an emphasis on rural, Native American, and Alaskan Native children and adolescents.

“When they study they need to be able to effectively work with those that they’re going to be serving which here in the state of Oklahoma that means American Indian and Alaska Native which have special nuances,” explained Virginia Drywater-Whitekiller, a Professor of Social Work at NSU. “There are very different ways you work with this population as well so preparing them academically as they continue to be life- long learners in working with the population.”

The goal of the workshop was to provide students who will soon be clinicians with information on the prevention, practice, and treatment of substance use disorder.

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