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Families of Oklahomans Who Died from Overdoses Rally for Awareness

Matt Trotter

White crosses lined a fence in front of the Tulsa County Courthouse on Thursday, each one bearing the name of someone who died from a drug overdose.

Family members held a rally there to tell people about the problem ahead of international Overdose Awareness Day on Saturday. Diane Searle’s daughter, Jillian, died last March at 19 years old from a heroin overdose.

Diane said Jillian’s addiction started after she received opioids for a dental procedure four years earlier.

"Once they have a taste of opiates, their brain is forever changed, and that’s what a lot of people don’t understand. It’s a constant, constant craving, and there’s medicine for that now. And if they are with the right group of people at the right offices, this can be turned around. It can be turned around," Searle said.

The man who allegedly sold Jillian drugs, Taylor Rogers, goes on trial in November for first-degree murder.

Rogers' will be one of the first such cases Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler's office brings before a jury. Kunzweirler said the Tulsa police and sheriff’s office have become great partners in overdose investigations.

"They’re starting to ask those questions immediately about, 'Alright, well, where do you think your child got these drugs?' and start digging and getting after that. Time is of the essence," Kunzweiler said.

Health nonprofit CREOKS offers substance abuse treatment and other services in all 77 counties, and help is there not just for the person struggling with addiction.

"As a community, we need to support the person going through the addiction, and there’s services for everybody surrounding the person that’s addicted. Because it affects everybody," said Dawn Quesenbury with CREOKS.

More than 700 Oklahomans die from an overdose each year. Six out of 10 overdose deaths in Oklahoma involve at least one prescription drug, most commonly an opioid.

Matt Trotter joined KWGS as a reporter in 2013. Before coming to Public Radio Tulsa, he was the investigative producer at KJRH. His freelance work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and on MSNBC and CNN.