Better treatment and tough love needed to battle heroin problem
Since the emergence of the opioid crisis, as it has been labeled by federal and state lawmakers and other health officials, considerable effort has gone into limiting the amount of opiates that people can access.
Federal legislation has passed that is intended to prevent physicians from prescribing them for prolonged periods of time. Locally, St. Charles Health System doctors are trying to stem the possibility of addiction by reserving opiates for acute, temporary pain while treating long-term pain in a variety of other ways.
The result is that opioid overdoses and associated deaths are on the decline following more than a decade of sharp and continual increase. This is good news for sure and hopefully the start of an ongoing trend.
But this success story comes with a pretty significant caveat. Due to the growing cost of prescription meds — which is another problematic story in itself ?— and the limitations placed on opiate prescriptions, some people may be turning to heroin.
Heroin abuse, and criminal behavior related to it, has increased in the Crook County area as well as many other communities across the country. Though the Prineville Police Department has yet to compile numbers on heroin-related incidents, the agency is confident in saying that the drug has a much larger presence in the community than it did a decade ago, when heroin possession or other related crimes were virtually nonexistent.
While several theories are floating around as to why this is happening, one of the more plausible ones is that, due to high cost and limited access through legal means, people are struggling to get the opiates they crave and are turning to street alternatives.
Heroin is cheaper, and potent enough to ease people's pain, so people addicted to opiates are willing to go down that road. And the issue is not exclusive to any particular class or group of people, according to law enforcement professionals. It is found in all edges of society.
So now what? Nobody could fault the medical professionals nor lawmakers for taking reasonable steps to prevent opioid addiction. It makes perfect sense to favor other pain management strategies over long-term prescribing of a highly addictive drug. But if it is potentially pushing people toward heroin, an additional strategy is clearly in order.
Police have pegged drug treatment as one of the best answers — help people escape the clutches of addiction so they don't seek the legal meds or the street drugs. It sounds like a solid idea, but as one police sergeant points out, treatment options need to improve to make a dent in the problem.
One of the biggest issues is accessibility. People often have to travel as far away as Baker City or Portland to get help, and when help is that far away, an addict who might already be averse to treatment is far less likely to go to the trouble.
Stakeholders should take a long look at the local treatment situation and see if there might be some grant dollars to either fund more local treatment options or perhaps take a page from local veterans groups and develop a transportation service.
Related to improving treatment, the friends and families of addicts need to be willing to confront addicts and get them to the treatment they need. Addicts are often reluctant to seek treatment without someone pushing them into it — frequently it is court mandated — and loved ones are often enablers when a tough love approach is needed.
It takes a village, as they say, to solve a big problem. Health officials and lawmakers have taken some great first steps to slow down the opioid crisis. Hopefully, community leaders and citizens alike can take the next few steps and put a dent in heroin abuse.