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Stillaguamish Senior Center hosts opioid panel


Christopher Andersson

Will Nelson, a member of the Arlington Drug Awareness Coalition, left, and Arlington Mayor Barbara Tolbert, right, talk about opioids at the Stillaguamish Senior Center on May 23.

A panel of local experts talked about the opioid epidemic and how it can relate to and affect older adults during a seminar at the Stillaguamish Senior Center on May 23.

Todd Redd, clinical supervisor for Stillaguamish Behavioral Health, a local clinic program that helps those addicted to drugs, said he has seen people in their 70s coming in to get treatment.

"I don't have an abundance, but I do treat seniors and I know that many of them have come from surgeries," he said. "They didn't have a problem until they started using opiates from a surgery."

A surgery can lead to problems with opioids if you're not careful, he said, because so much of pain is treated with pills now.

"We've become a nation that doesn't like to be in pain and opioids were that miracle cure," said Arlington Mayor Barbara Tolbert.

Unfortunately, opioids also turned out to be more addictive than originally thought though, and now many are paying the price for that.

"If you're old enough, you will experience pain eventually," said Redd.

Stacie Wells, a naturopathic doctor with the Northwest Center for Optimal Health in Marysville, suggested trying natural remedies first.

"There are other ways to deal with pain or address chronic pain," she said. Dietary adjustments, or using natural anti-inflammatories like fish oil or turmeric, can often be effective.

"I've seen people be diagnosed with fibromyalgia and find success with a food plan," said Wells.

She encouraged people to not rely on drugs if they are not necessary in managing the pain.

Redd said that people need to understand their body and use the pain relief that works for them, and if something besides opiates will work, that is usually preferable.

"Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't," he said. "No one knows your body better than you."

Opiates are often the attractive option, Redd said, because they are effective at making people feel better after surgery or if they are struggling with pain.

"If I have pain, whether that is physical or emotional, opiates will kill that," he said.

However, Wells said that with some people, it doesn't take that long to form a physical addiction. At its shortest, that could be between three to five days, even though most opiates are prescribed for a two-week period.

Redd encouraged more skepticism and getting second opinions from other doctors when dealing with medical professionals.

"I'm of the generation where the doctor knew best, so when I got a prescription for 30 oxycontin, that's what I assumed I needed to take," Redd said.

Officials at the panels also advocated for removing the judgement from addiction.

Tolbert pointed out the contradiction of calling addiction a 'disease' but then turning around and blaming the person who has it.

"When dealing with an addict we always ask 'well, what did you do,' and 'how did you get here?' That's not what we say when someone's diagnosed with cancer," she said.

Will Nelson, one of the leaders of the Arlington Drug Awareness Coalition and principal of Weston High School, also said we should approach addiction with compassion.

"Really, what we should be thinking is 'how can we help these people?' and 'how can we get them the help that they need?'" he asked.

Arlington Police Chief Jonathan Ventura said there isn't any grand answer to the problem, although they are seeing small successes with new approaches like embedding social workers.

He also advocated moving away from a purely police response.

"If we can't find a way to get to the cause of these social ills, arresting our way of it will not be effective," he said.

Tolbert said the topic can be a little depressing, because "we've never run into a problem this complicated before," and there aren't many answers yet, but she did say there are many people working on more solutions.

"I know there isn't a city, state or county not having these conversations," she said.


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