Late OU linebacker's mother targets prescription drugs


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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The mother of a University of Oklahoma football player who died of a prescription drug overdose shared the story of her son's death to help launch a public campaign Monday aimed at bringing awareness to the problem of prescription drug abuse.

Gail Box, whose late son Austin Box was a linebacker for OU who died in 2011, spoke on the south steps of the state Capitol as part of the Coalition Against Rx (Prescription) Drug Epidemic, or CARE.

"I live every day with the guilt, the shame and the loss of my wonderful son," Box said, her voice at times trembling with emotion. "My family was forever changed on May 19, 2011. I blame myself for not recognizing the signs."

An autopsy on Austin Box showed he had five prescription painkillers and an anti-anxiety drug in his system when he died.

Oklahoma's drug overdose rate increased by nearly 400 percent from 1999 to 2013, and the state currently has the sixth-highest unintentional drug overdose death rate in the U.S., according to the State Department of Health.

Gail Box has been an outspoken advocate for stricter laws governing the dispensing of highly abused prescription drugs, and her efforts paid off earlier this year when the Oklahoma Legislature passed a bill that requires doctors in Oklahoma to check a prescription drug database before prescribing certain drugs. The new law takes effect Nov. 1.

The database, which is operated by the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, includes real-time information on whether that patient has obtained prescriptions from another doctor.

Gov. Mary Fallin also has made fighting prescription drug abuse one of her legislative priorities and has worked for more funding for the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, said Steve Buck, the agency's deputy commissioner.

"The great news is that prevention and treatment work," Buck said. "There is recovery for those who have access to treatment."

According to the State Department of Health, about 80 percent of the 4,600 unintentional poisoning deaths in Oklahoma from 2007 to 2013 involved at least one prescription drug. Two of the most common prescription painkillers, hydrocodone and oxycodone, are responsible for more unintentional poisoning deaths than alcohol and all illegal drugs combined, the agency reported.

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Online:

House Bill 1948: http://bit.ly/1bO33FS

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Follow Sean Murphy at www.twitter.com/apseanmurphy

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