EUGENE, Ore. - The Oregon Conference on Opioids, Pain, and Addiction Treatment invited community leaders, health providers, and health system leaders to find solutions for the ongoing opioid epidemic.
Opioid addiction killed 63,6200 people in 2016, alone. The epidemic has hit Oregon hard. Though Oregon is no longer the #1 state for opioid addiction, it still causes more deaths per year than car crashes in the state.
Michelle Marikos is a certified peer support specialist. She holds community forums that help people face their addiction and find help. She herself was dependent on opioids for 10 years. After she was pushed off of a deck 15 years ago, she found herself in chronic pain. She said she was initially on a small amount of medication but was put on even more after she had surgery. She said she felt stuck in that place.
"Dark, very dark. Very depressed. Very fearful, angry. Emotional...high emotions and despair,” Marikos said.
Marikos said she saw the way this was hurting the people around her as well. When she wanted to have another surgery to hopefully solve her pain problems, she was told she couldn’t be on these medications. She attended a pain program where she stopped using opioids. In the end, she didn’t end up getting the surgery, and she learned to manage the pain on her own.
One of the major parts of the opioid epidemic is overprescribed painkillers. Doctors prescribe medication to help people with chronic pain, and they end up being addicted.
Dr. Jim Shames used to work in primary care. He said he understands how doctors could fall victim to this behavior. He said he, himself, just wanted to be empathetic to his patients’ pain and help them feel better.
"If you treat people's pain, legitimate pain, they're not going to get in trouble,” said Shames. You know, I kind of swallowed all that, and I think I caused some harm during my practice."
Shames said looking forward, a few things need to be addressed to help solve this epidemic. One is finding the root of people’s chronic pain, as well as finding more natural ways to treat it. Another is making sure medical treatment for addiction is available to those who need it. This could help in a long-term battle and a short-term one, by saving someone’s life during an overdose.
The conference began Thursday, May 17, at the Eugene Hilton, and will continue through Saturday, May 19.