Panel to discuss opioid abuse

IRON RIVER—One of the most vexing societal problems in the United States and worldwide is opioid abuse and addiction.
    According to a 2012 national survey on drug use and health from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, an estimated 2.1 million people in the U.S and between 26.4 and 36 million people worldwide abuse opioids, a class of narcotics that includes prescription pain killers, morphine and heroin. And surely, those numbers have risen in the last six years.
    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say 188,000 people died from opioid overdoses from 1999-2015. There have been reported and unreported overdose deaths in Iron County in recent years as well.
    The days of associating opioid abusers and addicts with street people in big cities are over. It is a scourge that affects small communities like Iron County as well. It’s a massive problem with many tentacles and one that resists easy solutions.
    As a means of confronting the issue, the Aspirus Iron Area Health Foundation will sponsor a community conversation titled “Overcoming Opioids” from 6 to 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 24, in the Aspirus Iron River Hospital cafeteria. A panel including Iron County Sheriff Mark Valesano, Upper Peninsula Substance Abuse Enforcement Commander Tim Sholander, Dr. Donald Patton of Aspirus and Pastor Seth Waters will address narcotic awareness, education and enforcement.
    The event is free and open to the public.
    “All nonprofit hospitals have to complete a community needs assessment once every three years, and we know that substance use and abuse is a key health issue that has been identified,” said Aspirus Iron Area Health Foundation Director Peg James. “It’s a community concern for all of us, and so I think that it’s just so important to be aware, to have a greater knowledge base, to educate as many people as we can in order to have a safe and healthy community.”
    James said Valesano and Sholander will speak to the issue from a law enforcement standpoint, while Patton will discuss pain management protocols and Waters will speak as a recovering addict.
    The event is meant to be conversational, James said.
    “They will each kind of have a format on what they will speak to, and I think as they speak questions will come up. It’s meant to be interactive.”
    James said the idea for the discussion began last winter during conversations she had with Valesano. As one of her aims at director of the foundation, which in part procures and stewards finances to support population health issues as part of its mission, James hopes to hold a few events a year that raise public awareness of health issues.
    “We thought this would be a good opportunity to do something like this,” James said.
    James said topics will include how pain killer addiction happens, how to avoid it, how it is overcome, how it is detected and what is happening in the local community. She said she hopes that a broad spectrum of the community will participate, not just experts.
    “Maybe family members, maybe neighbors, because substance abuse, whether it’s alcohol or drugs, is certainly not an individual matter.”
    James said she hopes the conversation will continue well after the event, which the Iron County Board of Commissioners gave funds to help in the advertising and educational effort.
    “Truly I would like to see a community taskforce of some sort because (people) really feel strongly about it and are trying to do something. But I can’t do it myself, Mark can’t do it by himself. It’s going to take a group effort, a collaborative effort.”