CHIEFTAIN: Addiction a base for plenty of tragedy

Prescription drug addiction may be our state’s biggest drug problem, and there’s a group trying to tackle the issue more effectively.

addict-pillsAccording to Dwight Holton, many modern tragedies begin with an addiction.

Crime, mental health breakdowns, even suicide and homicide can often be traced back to a pill or a poison — some brains are just wired to be susceptible to outside influence. And many of the systems of care and punishment our society has in place don’t do much to get to the root of the problem, or save people who are in danger of hurting themselves or others.

Holton is a former federal prosecutor and Oregon’s U.S. attorney. In that line of work, by the time he got involved it was too late. Someone had already been hurt, bad decisions had been made, lives had been impacted for the worse.

In 2014 he took over as director of Lines for Life, a Portland-based nonprofit that has twin goals of preventing substance abuse and suicide. He wanted to get involved early, to prevent the bad decisions in the first place. And while it might seem at first glance that substance abuse and suicide are different threats, Holton said they are nearly always intertwined.

In the course of his new work, he quickly realized that the major source of substance abuse problems in Oregon come from prescription pills. They kill more Oregonians — hundreds a year — than all illegal drugs. Holton said a major factor may be that Oregonians think prescription pills are safer than they actually are. We think heck: these things are legal, they are given to me by my doctor and they make me feel better. What’s the downside?

Addiction can cause people to do terrible things outside their own nature. They lie and cheat and embezzle and burgle and assault and kill. They get stuck in a cycle of depression and broken relationships. There is literally nothing good that comes from it.

So how can the state reduce the number of people laid low by prescription pills? Holton’s plan is to reduce the number of prescribed but unnecessary opioids. Currently, 100 million such pills are prescribed in Oregon each year. He also wants more places where patients can dispose of unused medicines. In addition, Holton sees the benefit of better treatment and less-addictive versions of the medication.

There is lots to talk through and plenty to think about, which is why Holton is taking his crew on the road. They met Friday in La Grande, the first discussion to kick off the first phase of identifying best practices across the state.

We realize it is a root issue that leads to all kinds of rotten social ills, and agree with Holton that time and money spent up front will save us even more down the road — including a society with fewer broken lives and families.

There is no easy answer to the problem of prescriptions drugs. Science continues to learn more about addiction, and continues to fine-tune medicines that reduce the likelihood they will be misused. Read more…

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