OKLA. CITY —
It’s an oft-told story, but it’s one well worth repeating.
When you think of a college football player at one of the nation’s top programs, like the University of Oklahoma, you think of someone who’s on top of the world and strong, progressing toward, perhaps, a career in the NFL.
Austin Box had a stellar career at Enid High School, where he was a versatile player with experience at quarterback, running back and wide receiver on offense and free safety on defense.
During his senior season, Box completed 55 percent of passes (126-231) for 1,938 yards with 13 TDs, leading the Plainsmen to a runner-up finish in class 6A. He was the No. 1 player in the Oklahoma Top 30 and the No. 3 outside linebacker in the nation (Rivals.com).
In 2008, after the 6-foot, 1-inch 228-pound linebacker redshirted in 2007, Box played in 10 games for the Oklahoma Sooners, but had to leave the Oklahoma State game with a knee injury — one of two such injuries he suffered during his career — and missed the Big 12 Championship Game.
In 2009, Box played in 10 games.
In 2010, Box suffered a pre-season back injury and missed the first five games of the season. As Box had done many times before he never complained. He rehabbed and returned to start the last five games of the season at middle linebacker and make eight tackles in a Fiesta Bowl victory.
Box felt he had an obligation to use his athletic gifts to the utmost of his ability and to not complaint about his misfortune. Unfortunately, his parents believe, that mindset set in motion events that would lead to the abuse of prescription drugs.
Family members had no idea of the issue their son was facing. Box began to suffer in silence.
“Austin was clearly ashamed of the secret he was keeping,” Craig Box, Austin’s father, said Thursday afternoon during a press conference at the state Capitol. “We didn’t know. His girlfriend didn’t know. His best friend didn’t know.”
On May 19, 2011, Box, 22, died of an unintentional prescription drug overdose.
“The drugs were not the answer,” said Box, flanked by his wife Gail and their daughter Courtney. “They simply led him down a road of false comfort and ultimately to his death.”
There’s no shame in asking for help, Box said, the urgency in his voice discernible.
Behind the members of the Box family were several state lawmakers and officials including Gov. Mary Fallin, Terri White, commissioner of the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, and Dr. Terry Cline, commissioner of the Oklahoma State Department of Health and Oklahoma Secretary of Health.
They unveiled the state’s plan for reducing prescription drug abuse in Oklahoma, which seeks to achieve goals including lowering the number of related deaths. In Oklahoma, Cline said, prescription drug abuse deaths are significantly higher than the majority of other states.
In Oklahoma, 657 unintentional poisonings occur each year, and 435 of those deaths are due to prescription drugs, Cline said. That’s a typical year.
“That should be the call to action,” Cline said. “What are we not doing that we need to do? What avenues do we have? What tools do we have to bring those numbers down and actually save some lives?”
White, an Edmond Public Schools product, said 12 percent of Oklahomans — 450,000 individuals — are struggling with substance abuse.
“It is a silent epidemic that is surfacing with a vengeance,” Fallin said.
Cline said reducing the number of related deaths in the state is achievable, and a comprehensive approach is what is needed to end the epidemic. The plan covers public education, provider and prescriber education, disposal and storage, tracking and monitoring, regulations and enforcement and treatment and prevention.
During a recent two-year period, the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics disposed of 24 tons of unwanted or unused prescription drugs through a voluntary program.
For more information, visit a state-sponsored website: www.TakeasPrescribed.org.
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