Oklahoma’s required methadone checks are largely the legacy of Carol Bolding of Tulsa and her advocate in the Legislature, the late Rep. Sue Tibbs.
On Mother’s Day 2005, Bolding’s only child Brian was found slumped on the floor of a friend’s home next to a glass of milk and a partially eaten chicken sandwich.
Brian, who was 29, died from an overdose of methadone, which is used to treat pain and help addicts recover from opiate dependency, and alprazolam, an anti-anxiety drug better known as Xanax. Brian was taking methadone to wean himself off the oxycodone he had been taking for back pain, Carol Bolding said.
Bolding began looking into methadone. She discovered it had been implicated in an alarming number of overdose deaths after doctors began prescribing it more aggressively to treat chronic pain. Methadone has an unusually long half-life and can build up to toxic levels before a patient realizes he or she has taken too much.
“I was either on the phone or I was on the computer,” Bolding said. “That was what I did after my son passed away.”
Bolding enlisted the aid of Tibbs to sponsor a bill requiring physicians to check the PMP every time they wrote a prescription for methadone. Bolding had sought support from many legislators to no avail but finally got Tibbs to help after they met while the legislator was undergoing chemotherapy at the same time as Bolding’s husband.
Tibbs became a passionate advocate of methadone checks, and in 2010, about a year and a half after the two women met, the measure was passed over the initial objections of doctors. The moment was bittersweet for Bolding because her husband died on Mother’s Day 2010, the fifth anniversary of her son’s death and days before the legislation was signed into law.
Tibbs died of cancer in 2012.
“That fiery little woman (Tibbs) got that thing through and signed,” said Darrell Weaver, director of the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. “It’s had a profound impact on methadone deaths.”
The declines in methadone prescriptions and overdoses are not entirely attributable to the mandatory PMP checks. The numbers had already begun falling as doctors across the country became more aware of methadone’s unusual toxicity.
But drug enforcers say they believe Oklahoma’s mandatory PMP checks caused state physicians to exercise even more caution than they would have otherwise.
“(Passing the legislation) made me feel like I gave him (Brian) a voice because he fought so hard to try to stop taking methadone,” Bolding said. “I just know he’s looking down saying, ‘Way to go mom.’”