NORMAN — Editor’s Note: The following story is from a joint investigation by Oklahoma Watch and The Oklahoman.
On Jan. 27, 2010, Dena Kay Brasfield died in her sleep.
Two days earlier, the 40-year-old clothing store worker had gone to see Oklahoma City doctor Cecil Allen Moore, complaining of migraines, anxiety and panic attacks. He prescribed her unsually large doses of alprazolam, an addictive anti-anxiety drug, and oxycodone, a potent opiate painkiller.
The medical examiner ruled it an accidental overdose. Nobody reported the death to the Oklahoma Board of Osteopathic Examiners.
It wasn’t until late 2011, after receiving complaints about Moore from pharmacists, other patients and relatives, that the board launched an investigation of his prescribing practices. They soon made a gruesome discovery: Eight of Moore’s patients had died of overdoses in 2010 and 2011. Not one had been reported to the board.
By the time the board revoked Moore’s license in mid-2012 for prescribing violations, more than two years had passed since Brasfield swallowed her fatal cocktail of prescription drugs.
The eight deaths on Moore’s watch, and others like them, expose troubling gaps in the state’s system for combating an epidemic that has seen Oklahoma surge to near the top of national rankings for prescription drug abuse and overdose deaths.
In 2012, unintentional prescription drug overdoses claimed the lives of 534 Oklahomans. State health authorities say about half of them had taken drugs prescribed by their own doctors.
While much of Oklahoma’s enforcement efforts are aimed at drug-seekers, far less effort is dedicated to identifying, investigating and pursuing the problem providers — the doctors who supply the sometimes deadly dosages.
Despite the fact that almost one out of every two overdose deaths involves a drug the person was prescribed legally, state investigators don’t check regularly to see whether the prescriber might be linked to other overdose deaths.