"Accidental overdoses happen. Naloxone saves lives." This message about the medication designed to rapidly reverse opioid overdose is appearing on billboards at locations along busy highways in Clackamas County.
"As a community we need to change the way we think about opioid addiction. Addiction can touch anyone's life and it often starts with a prescription," said Apryl Herron, a program coordinator for Clackamas County's Public Health Division and co-organizer of the local naloxone work group that focuses on opioid and naloxone education. "It's time we stop viewing opioid addiction as a moral failing, but instead as a chronic, but treatable disease."
Abigail Wells, who is Northwest Family Services' Prevention and Community Public Health Department manager and the other co-organizer of the work group, thinks that breaking the stigma associated with drug use is the biggest challenge faced in fighting the opioid crisis.
"We have all dehumanized opioid abusers over the years, largely due to ignorance around addiction and all the complications that go with it. We look at substance use very differently as a society than other medical conditions," Wells said.
Kelli Zook is the project coordinator for Clackamas County's Community Corrections Program and a member of the group. Her work also involves helping to break the stigma associated with opioid use disorder so that individuals and families will seek life-changing and potentially life-saving treatment.
"We need to choose our words carefully," Zook said. "Removing terms from our vocabulary that reinforce stigma will help to reduce the shame and self-doubt that prevents individuals and families affected by opioid use disorder from seeking help when they need it most."
The naloxone workgroup is tackling the issue of opioid addiction, stigma, overdose and naloxone rescue in a number of ways, described Wells.
"We are making a difference by providing naloxone trainings for the community and organizations that teach the public about the nature of addiction, proper use of naloxone, substance user treatment programs, and recovery supports," she said.
Clackamas County and its partners also are working to make naloxone available to at-risk populations and to those who are most likely to encounter an overdose situation through partnerships with law enforcement, community organizations and pharmacies.
"We are increasing the number of people who can respond to someone who has overdosed and get naloxone into the hands of those who need it most," Herron said. "Naloxone gives people a second chance at life and great things come from second chances."
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