Prescription opioids can be addictive and dangerous. Even when prescribed by a doctor, opioids can lead someone into addiction, and even a deadly overdose.
Nevertheless, looking at depictions on TV and elsewhere in the media, you might think opioid use is mostly a problem that impacts white people. I’m writing to tell you that this is a myth. And believing in myths can lead us to make unfair generalizations that don’t reflect the truth of a situation. The truth is, no one group is immune to the potential dangers of opioids.
The facts surrounding opioid use and overdose deaths are startling. When reviewing Washington state death certificates from 2015 to 2017, people who are American Indian/Alaskan Native or Black had the highest death rates from all drug overdose, and these numbers are on the rise from previous years.
White residents are in third place; their death rates are leveling off, but the numbers are still high. Finally, the Hispanic/Latinx community has a lower number of deaths, but the death rate is rising more quickly. All of this is worthy of concern.
Behind the opioid epidemic’s disturbing statistics are people in our communities — our neighbors, our friends, our family. We may see them in church, in the grocery store, in the orchard, in our medical clinic, and at our dining table.
The epidemic is right here, right now — and chances are, we all likely know someone with opioid use disorder.
The number of opioids prescribed to patients in the U.S. is three times higher now than it was in 1999. Despite these prescriptions, many patients do not report a significant decrease in the amount of pain they feel.
Let’s come together to dispel these myths and protect our community. Here are several ways you can help:
1. Have conversations with your family and friends about the potential dangers of opioid pain medications. Talk about alternative ways you respond to pain and stress.
2. Learn more about how to manage pain without the risks of opioids. Ask your healthcare provider or clinic about alternatives to opioids that might be right for you, and visit www.doh.wa.gov/oop.
3. Ask for help. If you or someone you know already misuses prescription opioids and wants to stop, Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) can be a lifesaving option. Call the Washington State Recovery Helpline toll-free 24 hours a day at 866-789-1511 or visit http://www.warecoveryhelpline.org.
4. Remove unused, unwanted medicines from your home. More information can be found by clicking this link.
The Washington State Department of Health has resources available to help. Protect yourself, your family, and your community by learning more. Again, I invite you to visit: www.doh.wa.gov/oop.
Dr. Tyler Chisholm is a family medicine physician in the Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic network of care.