The Norman Transcript

July 12, 2013

Heart disease and prescription drug abuse are leading causes of death in Oklahoma

By Arianna Pickard
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — Heart disease and prescription drug abuse are growing causes of death in the U.S. and especially in Oklahoma, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a lecture Thursday in Oklahoma City.

CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden came to the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center on Thursday to discuss what the center’s data has shown about improving public health and health care.

The No. 1 cause of death in the U.S. by far right now is cardiovascular illnesses such as heart disease and strokes, Frieden said.

“We’re living in a huge increase in cardiovascular diseases,” he said.

Some measures that communities and individuals can take to decrease cardiovascular diseases are controlling tobacco use, reducing sodium intake and eliminating trans fat, he said.

Tobacco usage rates for individuals 18 and over in the U.S. are lower than they have ever before been documented, he said. But communities need to continue inhibiting smoking.

In response to a question from an audience member, Frieden said he does not know whether the increasingly popular e-cigarettes have helped prevent tobacco use. The effect of e-cigarettes is still a mystery to the CDC — they’ve been difficult to study since there is such a wide variety of products put into them.

One quickly growing cause of death in Oklahoma right now is prescription drug overdose, specifically opiates, he said. More deaths in the U.S. are caused by overdosing on opiates than heroine, meth or motor vehicle accidents.

“We’re just beginning to understand how dangerous these drugs are,” he said.

The CDC is investigating treatments that won’t involve prescribing patients these drugs, he said.

“It is the job of us who work in health to bring those things to light that will improve public health,” Frieden said.

A major problem with public health in the U.S. today is that many people’s health problems are “hidden in plain sight,” meaning they aren’t doing anything to treat their problems or health care systems aren’t providing them with information, he said.

For example, 67 million U.S. adults have high blood pressure, but less than half of them have it under control, he said. Similarly, less than 72 percent of the 1.2 million people in the U.S. diagnosed with HIV have their disease under control.

Oklahoma health was ranked 43rd in the nation by the United Health Foundation. With a little over a fourth of Oklahomans smoking on a regular basis, Oklahoma is ranked 47th in the nation for smoking. A little over 30 percent are obese, putting the state’s obesity ranking at 45.