The opioid epidemic

It’s not unique to Plumas, but this county is making strides to fight it

The opioid epidemic grabs national headlines as cities, counties and states across the country grapple with soaring addiction rates and fatal overdoses. It was even a frequent topic of discussion during last year’s presidential campaign.

From 2009 to 2013, Plumas County led the state in overdose deaths by population related to opioid pharmaceuticals. Opioids are substances that act on receptors in the brain to relieve pain. They also stimulate dopamine, the main pleasure hormone. Doctors prescribe opioids as painkillers for their patients. Statistics revealed that prescription rates and overdoses were higher in the northern rural areas of California; it wasn’t just Plumas, it was a regional issue.

The Northern Sierra Opioid Safety Coalition formed in January of 2016 with a variety of goals including: decreasing unsafe prescribing; increasing access to naloxone, the antidote of opioid overdoses; and increasing access to medication-assisted treatment. When the coalition was first formed, information about safe prescribing practices was emerging. The coalition was able to shine a light on new guidelines, including those offered by the Centers for Disease Control.

When the coalition first formed, generally just those in the medical profession had heard of naloxone. The coalition launched an education campaign and set up a distribution program in Plumas, Sierra and Modoc counties, with Lassen to be added soon. The coalition can document at least one life that has been saved in the last year thanks to this program.

But in addition to providing an antidote, the coalition is committed to developing a medication-assisted treatment, something that is rare in rural settings. Plumas County Public Health has developed a pilot program it hopes will become a model for rural communities throughout the United States.

Additionally, the coalition wants to focus on prevention measures and has developed a pamphlet titled “Alternative Pain Treatment Options for Plumas County,” which highlights methods to reduce pain and chronic opioid use. Some examples are acupuncture, physical therapy, chiropractic care, massage therapy, meditation, therapeutic counseling and yoga therapy.

In just a little over a year since its formation, the opioid coalition has made great strides in combating opioid addiction. Public Health has taken the lead in organizing a coalition of public and private entities representing rural northern California.

This isn’t the first time that the county’s public health department has been on the cutting edge. Last fall it received the Innovation Award from the California State Association of Counties for its 20,000 Lives program, which brings together private and public partners to advance the health and wellbeing of all Plumas County residents. The opioid coalition is just another example of its efforts on behalf of all of us.