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Fighting opioids in Southern Oregon

An epidemic of opioid addiction continues to grip the country, and Southern Oregon is not immune. The problem of opioid addiction and the resulting deaths from overdose are getting worse here, not better. Local efforts are focused on preventing overdose deaths by those already addicted and taking steps to keep from creating new dependency among patients in local hospitals.

In a joint project with television station KTVL, a three-part series of stories beginning in today’s Mail Tribune describes the problem through the eyes of those caught up in it, and explores efforts to combat it locally.

Today’s story features four men who overcame addictions and now work with addicts to help them fight back. Monday’s installment profiles a local woman who lost her son to a heroin overdose and now campaigns to distribute the life-saving medication naloxone, which can save lives by reversing the effects of overdose. Tuesday’s story describes efforts by local hospitals to change how they prescribe opioid painkillers in the hope of preventing patients from becoming addicted.

These steps are all important and deserve community support. Meanwhile, efforts are underway on the national level to take action against drug manufacturers who are accused of contributing to the epidemic by resisting government regulation of opioid medications and promoting their use despite evidence of the danger. Lawsuits also have been filed against the pharmaceutical industry by communities ravaged by addiction.

Today’s story describes the struggles of four local men. Two have been clean for two years, one for six years and one for 18. All say they owe their sobriety to local treatment programs, and continue to work to help others break free.

It’s tempting to see addiction as a personal failure on the part of the addicted individual — the result of “making bad choices.” That makes it easier to dismiss addiction as the result of weakness of will or character.

But that ignores the reality that opioid addiction affects people from all walks of life. Many become addicted after suffering serious injuries in an automobile accident or contracting a life-threatening disease. They become dependent on the pain-killers prescribed to help them recover, and when they can no longer obtain prescriptions to feed their addiction, they turn to black-market pills or heroin.

Whatever started them on the path, once they are caught up in the throes of addiction, breaking free is not as simple as just making a choice. That’s why effective treatment programs are so important, and why saving the life of someone suffering an overdose is the right thing to do. Because every person who dies of an overdose is one who will never have the chance to conquer the addiction that holds them hostage.

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