Oklahoma Rising?: Part six, Success stories

ranging the vaccinations with the patrons of the centers, he said.

"These are people who are very mission-oriented, locally based and can help in the local systems. They are assigned to private sector providers as well as public health departments," he said.

Flash forward to 2008. In February, the state announced that Oklahoma had risen to 15th in the nation in childhood immunizations.

The provider community has really bought into this. They want to make sure they are doing a good job, and they are. It looks like it's just going to get better for us down the road. We are still progressing, it's still climbing," Blose said. "The state couldn't do this alone. All of the providers got together and worked " hard " to make this happen."

If there is an example of Oklahoma taking a problem head on " one that put this state in the worst category " and becoming a model for the rest of the nation, it has to be in the area of methamphetamine labs.

Just a few years ago, law enforcement agencies across the state seemed to be busting up a meth lab every day.

"It was public enemy No. 1 and it really made us focus on one element when we have other elements we also need to focus on," said Darrell Weaver, director of the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drug Control.

The problem of meth and the production of the highly addictive drug had been around for decades. But by the turn of the new century, meth went from a drug of mentioning to Weaver's top target.

In 1994, state law enforcement busted up only 10 meth labs. By 2002, that number grew beyond belief as more than 1,200 meth labs were seized.

"It was at the point it was consuming many of the law enforcement assets," Weaver said. "It got to be such a troublesome burden. It got so acute to everybody. We had to stop that supply."

There were two main reasons meth became an epidemic in Oklahoma. Getting the ingredients to make the drug was easily obtained through local stores, and the recipe was widely available through the Internet. Stopping the access to the recipe through the Internet would be about as easy as stopping online pornography " next to impossible. So state officials decided the best strategy was to cut off the supply.

One of the main ingredients to making meth is a chemical called pseudoephedrine, which also happens to be a key ingredient in many cold and sinus medications sold over the counter in local stores. Meth makers would buy cold medicines like Sudafed in bulk quantities, break the pills down and cook up the meth.

In 2004, the state Legislature passed House Bill 2176, which greatly restricted the sale of medicines containing pseudoephedrine. The law required those medications to be sold only through a pharmacist and buyers had to show identification. There were also limits on the amount of pseudoephedrine drugs a person could buy.

The effect of the law was immediate. By the end of 2005, the number of meth lab busts dramatically dropped 73 percent from the state's high mark of 1,254 seizures in 2002. The number continues to decline. Last year, only 148 meth lab busts were made, the lowest mark in a decade.

But while the supply of meth has been tackled, the demand still remains a problem.

"When the pseudoephedrine law happened "¦ it made a big difference in manufacturing," said Terri White, commissioner of the Oklahoma Mental Health and Substance Abuse. "But what my agency is responsible for is prevention and treatment and recovery, and that's what we've got to deal with now."

She said her agency has seen a small decrease in meth users, but not nearly as significant as the decrease in meth labs.

"The problem is if I take away the places where it is manufactured, you have an addiction so you are going to find somewhere else to get it," White said.

One method to curb the demand is a campaign called "Crystal Darkness," which is aimed at educating the public about the dangers of meth and how to avoid addiction. The highlight of the campaign will come in January when several television stations across the state will simultaneously air a 30-minute documentary. The program will show testimonials portraying the impact meth has on families and communities.

There was a joke back in the Eighties that in Oklahoma, the Bible Belt unbuckled for teen sex. That's because it was true.

With the religious right ascendant under the Ronald Reagan administration, sex education was de-emphasized. In 1980, Oklahoma's rate of teen pregnancy soared to fourth in the nation.

Into the new century, the rate dropped dramatically. AIDS entered the picture. So did the Clinton administration. One of the hallmarks of that administration was Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders, whose short and controversial tenure promoted sex education for high schoolers. Elders was asked to resign after she agreed with a questioner at a United Nations health summit that one way to stop teen pregnancies was to teach masturbation in schools.

By 2000, Oklahoma reportedly was 13th in the nation in teen pregnancy. The problem turned around " but now has come back again. The state returned to the teen pregnancy spotlight.

Oklahoma's stats today, garnered from the CDC, show its figures at eighth in the nation " still not good at all, said Teresa Ryan, the adolescent health coordinator with the Oklahoma State Department of Health.

She said health officials don't know the exact cause for the rise, but she has a suspicion. "We think it's a lack of education. In Oklahoma, there is no mandate for health education at any level," she said. "We've had teen pregnancy prevention projects out in schools. It went from 10 (programs) to now eight."

Ryan said that most programs now " in schools that allow them " are abstinence only. A few can choose to teach more, depending on the school, she said.

"What we do is get whatever into the schools we can. Some schools won't allow anything. Some schools allow abstinence (education) only. Some schools are more progressive," she said.

According to recent health statistics, Oklahoma pays $149 million a year for teen childbearing. Yet, in the last session, the state Legislature appropriated only $500,000 for education, Ryan said.

She said the program, however, is a good start.

"The curriculum is called "

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