Pubdate: Sun, 24 Jul 2016
Source: Chico Enterprise-Record (CA)
Copyright: 2016 Chico Enterprise-Record
Note: Letters from newspaper's circulation area receive publishing priority


We now know the scope of the prescription painkiller and heroin 
problem in Butte County. It's imperative that we do more to address it.

A seven-part series by reporter Ashiah Scharaga that ended Saturday, 
"Overdose Nation," studied the issue in depth. The use of opioids is 
a problem nationwide but it's more pronounced locally. Of 
California's 58 counties, Butte has the third-highest rate of 
drug-induced deaths. More than half of those drug-induced deaths are 
from opioids.

Painkillers and heroin do not discriminate. Victims come from all age 
groups, all economic circumstances, all races. For a variety of 
reasons, so many of which are preventable, the problem is worse here.

As Dr. Alex Stalcup, who lives in the Bay Area but consults on 
treatment programs here, said so well: "Here's this county full of 
wonderful people with good hearts and good values, and despite that 
it has some of the highest death rates and addition rates. I don't get it."

Change starts with doctors. Enough opioid prescriptions were written 
in 2012 to give every adult in America a bottle of painkillers. The 
medical profession is trying to self-correct. Federal regulators are 
cracking down on doctors who do overprescribe.

Patients who get addicted to prescription drugs and then can't get 
them sometimes turn to heroin, which these days is cheap and 
plentiful. The result is too many people getting hooked and not 
enough help getting them unhooked.

Through the hard work of people at the Skyway House and other 
treatment centers, support groups, county health departments, Bruce 
Baldwin at juvenile hall, doctors like Stalcup and many others, 
prevention specialists are taking a bite out of the problem. More 
needs to be done.

Treatment, though, starts with a person who wants to get help. That's 
hard to do when people are fearful of admitting their addiction. 
Scharaga conducted interviews for several months. The hardest part 
about bringing it all together was finding people who would talk for 
the record. Many wanted to be interviewed but didn't want their names 
in the newspaper. This newspaper, however, doesn't use anonymous 
sources for local stories.

Even recovering addicts were worried about people judging them or 
losing a current job. Eventually, though, we found people who would 
be interviewed on the record.

All of them talked about how we need to erase the stigma. Addiction 
is a disease, they all said, and diseases must be treated. Nobody 
should be judged for seeking help. In fact, they should be encouraged.

We thank those people for telling their stories. They set a positive 
example for others.

We wish there was more help. Treatment isn't cheap and the cost can 
be a barrier to many.

The state promised more money for treatment when voters passed 
Proposition 47 in 2014. But the measure was vaguely worded. We asked 
Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey how much of that promised 
new money the county has seen. "We've seen zero," he said.

Ramsey described Proposition 47 as a poorly written "lie." The 
initiative reclassified some felony crimes as misdemeanors, resulting 
in thousands of prisoners being released. Worst of all, it decimated 
the county's model drug court programs.

In those "collaborative courts," offenders with drug-related 
convictions were told they could complete the rehabilitation program 
or go to jail. Many opted for treatment, which helped stop the 
recidivist cycle.

Proposition 47 didn't mandate treatment. It made it optional. Many 
people aren't choosing that option. Ramsey said he has no statistics 
on how many fewer people are enrolled in drug court, but he said 
participation has "dramatically declined."

A vote of citizens effectively killed drug courts. Citizens need to 
take the lead in bringing it back.
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