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Austin Box's mother speaks at rally to spotlight prescription drug abuse

Gail Box has a photograph of her son that gives her strength.

Austin Box had just intercepted a pass against Oklahoma State on Nov. 27, 2010, in Stillwater. Amid the jubilation, he pointed at the University of Oklahoma student section.

"Whenever I see that picture today, whenever I see Austin pointing, I think, you know, it's a challenge to me," Gail Box said Monday at a state Capitol rally. "He's pointing to me and everyone else to make a change so that we do not lose any more of our citizens in Oklahoma, citizens of the nation, to a prescription drug overdose."

Austin Box died on May 19, 2011. In his system were oxymorphone, morphine, hydrocodone, hydromorphone and oxycodone with alprazolam.

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He suffered a serious back injury at the start of the 2010 season and was prescribed a limited amount of a pain killer.

"Unfortunately, there were those in his life ready to show him where and how to come by prescription pain medications," his mother said. "So I can't tell you how strongly I feel about making sure that you use store and dispose of your prescription drugs appropriately."

She started a foundation after his death.

"It was my personal goal to just save one life, to keep one parent from enduring the pain that my family has gone through," Box said. "Losing a child is like having a piece of your heart ripped out. You lose the future you have planned for that child, and for me, I live every day with the guilt, the grief and the loss of my wonderful son."

She wants to fight through the stigma associated with drug use, so that more families can communicate about drug dependency and seek help.

"I will blame myself for not recognizing the signs, but I also wish that Austin would have felt comfortable coming to me and saying that he had a problem," Box said. "I think that we put so much shame on those suffering from addiction.

"We need to lift that veil of shame. We need to let people know it's OK to ask for help. There is no shame in asking for help. I wish more than anything that I could have had a second chance with Austin."

The state Health Department and the Coalition Against Rx Drug Epidemic held the rally to raise awareness of the prescription drug overdose epidemic in Oklahoma.

Of the more than 4,600 unintentional poisoning deaths in Oklahoma from 2007-2013, about 80 percent involved at least one prescription drug and almost 90 percent of those deaths involved prescription painkillers.

More unintentional poisoning deaths involve hydrocodone or oxycodone, both prescription painkillers, than alcohol and all illicit drugs combined. Adults aged 35-54 have the highest death rate of any age group for prescription overdoses over time.

Deputy Commissioner Steven Buck of the state Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services said that in 2012, Oklahoma health care providers wrote 128 pain killer prescriptions for every 100 Oklahomans. Nationally, the statistic is 82 pain killer prescriptions for every 100 people.

"That is evidence that this state has an issue that must be addressed," he said.

"The great news is we know that both prevention and treatment work. We're not out here pursuing some pie in the sky thought. We know that when prevention is delivered responsibly, people's norms change and we make a difference and we know there is recovery for those with access to treatment. Our obligation is to make sure that access is open to all who need it."

Health Department suggestions for preventing prescription drug overdoses:

· Tell your healthcare provider about all medications and supplements you are taking; opioids in combination with other depressants such as sleep aids, anti-anxiety medications, or cold medicine can be dangerous.

· Only take medications as prescribed and never more than the recommended dosage; use special caution with opioid painkillers.

· Never share or sell prescription drugs.

· Dispose of unused, unneeded, or expired prescription drugs at approved drug disposal sites.

· Keep all pain medications in a safe place to avoid theft and access to children.

· Keep medicines in their original bottles or containers.

· Never drink alcohol while taking medication.

· Put the Poison Control number, 1-800-222-1222, on or near every home telephone and cell phone for 24 hours a day, seven days a week access.

For help finding referrals: Call 211.

For more information: www.takeasprescribed.org

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