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California confronts opioid addiction, an ‘epidemic of despair’

By in Press Enterprise on November 2, 2017

By CALmatters

By Elizabeth Aguilera, CALmatters

Michael Steelman perches at the edge of the Sacramento River, skipping rocks across the clear water. His dad’s Harley Davidson, borrowed for the excursion, is parked nearby.

In this popular Shasta County park, Steelman finds solace nearly every day, sitting, walking, skateboarding, thinking. The California native left his wife and two children in Georgia nearly four months ago, taking shelter with his parents to face an addiction to painkillers after 11 years of taking the opioid drugs for a neck injury.

Now, after stopping those drugs and starting addiction treatment in July, the 41-year-old sees a future.

Dr. Doug McMullin with the opioid overdose antidote Narcan. Photo by Hung T. Vu for CALmatters

Addiction “cost me a lot,” Steelman said. “I’m going through a divorce now, and I don’t have contact with my kids right now. It’s rough. But I know I’m doing the right thing. I’m staying sober.”

Steelman is benefiting from a year-old treatment program, the brainchild of a local physician who belongs to a coalition supported by federal, state and nonprofit funds. But he might easily have been among the tens of thousands of Americans dying each year of opioid overdoses, as prescriptions once reserved for cancer pain and end-of-life care have burgeoned and addiction and abuses have skyrocketed. Nearly half of those deaths were from overdoses of prescribed drugs such as Norco and Oxycodone, according to federal statistics.

The opioid crisis has not gripped California in the same way it has other states. Overdose deaths peaked in 2009 and have since dropped 15 percent, according to health officials. Still, nearly 4,100 people were hospitalized for overdoses in the state last year. Nearly 2,000 people died. According to the California Department of Public Health, 70 percent of the deaths involved prescription opioids. And there remain several hot spots of addiction, […]    

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