‘It Can Happen to Anyone’: County Works to End the Stigma of Opioid Addiction with New Campaign

Accidental overdoses happen. Naloxone saves lives. Talk with your doctor or pharmacist about naloxone. These are the messages that will appear on billboards at various locations along busy highways in Clackamas County over the next three weeks.

Naloxone is a medication designed to rapidly reverse the effects of an opioid overdose and can save someone’s life, according to the Clackamas County Public Health Division.

Opioids include prescription medications such as codeine, fentanyl, hydrocodone, hydromorphone, meperidine and methadone. Anyone of any age who takes too much of an opioid medication could experience an overdose, which could lead to death.

“As a community we need to change the way we think about opioid addiction. Addiction can touch anyone’s life and it often starts with a prescription,” said Apryl Herron, a program coordinator for the county’s public health division and co-organizer of the local naloxone workgroup that focuses on opioid and naloxone education. “It’s time we stop viewing opioid addiction as a moral failing, but instead as a chronic, but treatable disease.”

Abigail Wells, who is the prevention and community public health department manager for Northwest Family Services and the other co-organizer of the workgroup, believes that breaking the stigma associated with drug use is the biggest challenge faced in fighting the opioid crisis.

“We have all dehumanized opioid abusers over the years, largely due to ignorance around addiction and all the complications that go with it,” she said. “We look at substance use very differently as a society than other medical conditions.”

Kelli Zook is the project coordinator for Clackamas County’s Community Corrections Program and a member of the workgroup. Her work also involves helping to break the stigma associated with opioid use disorder so that individuals and families will seek life-changing and potentially life-saving treatment.

“We need to choose our words carefully,” she said. “Removing terms from our vocabulary that reinforce stigma will help to reduce the shame and self-doubt that prevents individuals and families affected by opioid use disorder from seeking help when they need it most.”

The naloxone workgroup is tackling the issue of opioid addiction, stigma, overdose and naloxone rescue in a number of ways, including making naloxone available to at-risk populations and to those who are most likely to encounter an overdose situation through partnerships with law enforcement, community organizations and pharmacies.

“We are increasing the number of people who can respond to someone who has overdosed and get naloxone into the hands of those who need it most,” Herron said. “Naloxone gives people a second chance at life and great things come from second chances.”

In addition to the new Naloxone Saves Lives billboards, the workgroup’s messages include Got Naloxone? window clings and stickers to display at locations where naloxone is available.

Organizations interested in having naloxone on site and naloxone training, please contact Abigail Wells at awells@nwfs.org or call 503-546-6377. Learn more at www.tricountyopiodsafety.org.

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