Family Of Late Sooner Linebacker Helps Shed Light On Prescription Drug Abuse
TULSA, Oklahoma - Prescription drug addiction is the fastest growing drug problem in the state - an epidemic that's become one of Oklahoma's most serious threats - but at a downtown Tulsa memorial walk and vigil, the problem took center stage.
The people who showed up Friday night will tell you that prescription drug use many times starts innocently, to just relieve pain, but when the addiction takes hold it's hard to shake loose.
OU's Austin Box delivered hits on the football field, but when a prescription drug addiction hit him, his sister, Whitney Box, said her brother couldn't recover.
“Everything he could do to fight back on the field, he would do,” Whitney said. “It becomes that warm embrace around you. It's the one thing that's comforting, it's the one thing that allows you to sleep, allows you to walk, allows you to sit normally.”
Austin, a gifted linebacker for the Sooners, suffered chronic pain due to multiple injuries throughout his career. It was so crippling, his sister said prescription meds became Austin's only hope for escaping the pain.
“I think he knew what he was doing was wrong. I think he was ashamed of what he was doing. He was afraid to tell us what was going on, how much pain he was in. He always took accountability for his mistakes, so I don't think he would ever say it was anybody else's fault,” Whitney said.
Austin overdosed on a deadly combination of painkillers three years ago, just a few months short of his final football season.
His family has since founded the Austin Box 12 Foundation. They travel to events like Friday night's walk, to help raise awareness of prescription drug abuse.
Oklahoma is one of the leading states for prescription drug abuse. The most recent Health Department numbers show unintentional prescription drug overdoses spiked 500 percent between 1999 and 2010, and the majority of lives lost were due to accidental overdoses.
Now, whether it's with a walk, or the flicker of a candle, Whitney's hope is that her brother's death will save lives.
“And that's all we want to do. If we can save one other life by telling people his story, then we've accomplished something and we've done something with his legacy worthwhile,” Whitney said.
Experts say painkiller abuse has spiked because there's such easy access to the drugs. They say education is the key to slowing the trend.