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Community Role Urged in Solving Opioid Crisis

Deaths from opioid abuse reached an historic high in 2015, according to the CDC. (frankieleon/Flickr)
Deaths from opioid abuse reached an historic high in 2015, according to the CDC. (frankieleon/Flickr)
May 1, 2017

PORTLAND, Ore. -- As the opioid crisis continues to haunt the country, communities are looking for ways to fight back.

Opioid use causes about 91 deaths a day in the United States and resulted in an historic high of 33,000 deaths in 2015. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that number actually could be an under-estimation.

In Oregon, the rate of opioid deaths is higher than the national average. Dr. Safina Koreishi, medical director at Columbia Pacific Coordinated Care Organization, said it's even worse for the North Coast where she works. She said cultivating trust among community members can be a useful prevention tool, because addiction doesn't happen in a vacuum.

"Talking about, within the community, how trauma can affect all of this; and that is something that we've been working on with our community,” Koreishi said. "And our community within the North Coast is really passionate about it and has been struggling with it and moving forward regarding what does community resilience mean and how can we collectively build that."

Koreishi said there are many facets to fighting the epidemic, but the best tool is education. She said opioids should not be the first choice for treating chronic pain, and it's important for medical professionals to know that.

For instance, getting better sleep may be a more effective tool for treating pain than prescription pain medications. And Koreishi said it's imperative to get pills off the streets.

"We've funded and helped the community start drug take-back boxes within pharmacies so it's easier for people to give back unused pills,” she said.

Koreishi said she believes we're in the midst of a societal paradigm shift regarding these drugs, but she isn't sure we've reached the tipping point yet. She said everyone has to help to stop the staggering destruction that opioid abuse has wreaked on the country.

"It's everybody's responsibility to get us out of this, and I literally think every single person within society plays a role in addressing this,” she said; "just like in addressing any other major, complex societal issue."

In April, the federal government distributed money to states to help fight opioid abuse, including $6.5 million for Oregon, as part of the 21st Century Cures Act. Some members of Congress have argued the legislation does not provide nearly enough to fight the crisis.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - OR