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Friday, November 2, 2018

Opioid Epidemic Treated Like A Natural Disaster

In 2014, a landslide in Oso, Washington, claimed the lives of 43 people. Each day, more than 100 people lose their lives to an overdose in the United States. Both are disasters, one natural and the other is something entirely different; however, there is evidence that the response to either situation should be roughly the same. That is, to effectively tackle a daunting crisis what’s needed is coordination.

Rightly, some individuals may find it trying to draw parallels between natural disasters and public health epidemics. Because, no one chooses to be part of a mudslide; what’s more, most people would not decide to go back to a dangerous area after surviving nature’s wrath. Conversely, it is not uncommon for a person with an opioid use disorder to overdose on multiple occasions. Addicts – left with few options – will continue down the destructive path they are on unless there be some form of intervention.

When disaster strikes, communities come together in service to a common goal, most notably the mission is to protect life. Local governments team up with Federal agencies to rescue victims, repair the wreckage, and bring the affected back to some sense of normalcy. While there are efforts underway on the local, state, and Federal level to combat the American opioid addiction epidemic, making headway has proven to be a monumental challenge. So, as the nation scrambles to find solutions people continue to suffer and perish; in 2017, more the 70,000 Americans died of an overdose.

Tackling Addiction Requires A Coordinated Effort

The reason for bringing up the Oso Landslide owes to what the devastating event led one local Sheriff to do about the heroin problem in his rural community. The former police chief of Stanwood, WA, (pop. 7,000), and now sheriff of Snohomish County, Ty Trenary, is using natural disaster response as a model for addressing addiction in his community, NPR reports. Trenary’s county is now treating the opioid epidemic like a natural disaster, calling for the same kind of response.

"It took becoming the sheriff to see the impacts inside the jail with heroin abuse, to see the impacts in the community across the entire county for me to realize that we had to change a lot about what we were doing," said Trenary. 

The novel idea was born in the mind of the director of communications for the sheriff's office, Shari Ireton, from what she saw when visiting the Oso disaster, according to the article. In the wake of the 2014 landslide, Ireton was witness to a coordinated effort across government agencies. Her memories of the collective to deal with the shared objective of life safety would impel Ireton to pitch her idea to the Sheriff and county leaders. The suggestion was well received, and the Multi-Agency Coordination group or MAC group was created.

Members of the group meet every two weeks at the special emergency operations center to discuss the epidemic and MAC’s over 100 items long to-do list. The task force has several significant goals including reducing opioid misuse, distributing needle cleanup kits, and training people in the community on reversing overdoses. Arguably, MAC's most important efforts have to do with recovery; the group is providing transportation for people in drug treatment, while police officers and social workers are going into homeless camps to assist addicts.

The effort continues, but hundreds of people now have housing and are in treatment thanks to MAC.


Opioid Use Disorder Recovery

Addiction is a treatable mental health disorder and recovery is possible. The Haven is a Joint Commission (TJC) accredited addiction treatment facility; we rely on evidence-based modalities to help people break the cycle of substance use disorder and go on to lead healthy, fulfilling lives. Please contact us if you are one of the millions of Americans struggling with an opioid use disorder, we can provide you with possibilities to renew to your best today.