The public kicked-off the OSU Center for Wellness and Recovery’s seven-day long event which covered the opioid epidemic response from the public, health officials, doctors, and those who work with those affected by opioid use.

A town hall meeting with an expert panel of six people who represented areas which see the affects first hand.

Duncan Regional Hospital (DRH) partnered with Pathways to a Healthier You to bring the event to Stephens County.

The moderator for the evening was Dr. Jason Beaman, Assistant Clinical Professor, chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences for OSU.

Beaman began the panel with some sobering stats on overdose deaths from 2002 to 2104 for the nation but also Oklahoma.

“I just want to give you a little bit of a screenshot about what we are talking about with the opioid epidemic,” he said.

Beaman said the numbers of drug overdoses from 2002 were at similar levels that the nation has been at since the 1930s.

A majority of the country had less then eight deaths per year per 100,000 in population. In 2014, a majority of the country now had more than 20 deaths per year per 100,000 in population.

“What we are doing and why there is doctors here talking to you is to try and help understand and educate about the prescription driven epidemic and what we need to do to fix that,” Beaman said. “We just concluded the trial against Johnson and Johnson in Norman and our slogan was ‘If you oversupply — people will die.’ We definitely think there is a role for opioids but we need to limit that role to where they’re necessary and really try to limit the ‘oversupply.’”

On the panel were: Dr. Dan Criswell, DRH Addiction Medicine, Family Medicine; Jackie Shipp, Oklahoma State Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services senior director; Louann Wiseman, Celebrate Recovery; Jason Hicks - 6th District Attorney; Mendy Spohn, regional director for Oklahoma Department of Health and John Scott, Oklahoma Drug Enforcement Administration.

The first question asked by Beaman was “What impact has the opioid epidemic had on your area?”

Criswell said he started as a family care doctor and in 2015 had an opportunity to take and then passed the Addiction Medicine board.

“I realized at that time, I didn’t have a lot of opioid dependance/addicted patients in my practice because I didn’t prescribe a lot of opioids,” Criswell said. “Other physicians began to ask questions and send patients and say ‘Can you help?’ Since 2015 more and more has been dedicated towards treatment of opioid use disorder primarily. My desire, my role in this, is to not only be a provider but a ringleader to put together the resources that we need here in Stephens County to address the issue.”

Criswell also wanted to make certain people understood that opioid use disorder was a medical condition not the “failure of the person.”

Shipp and Spohn both said a lack of resources due to the misconceptions that people were “druggies” and “why should we care” were roadblocks still coming up while trying to get funding.

“It’s an issue that impacts all ages, all socioeconomic status — every region in our state, it doesn’t discriminate in those ways,” Shipp said.

Wiseman said Celebrate Recovery was trying to keep up.

“It’s been pretty overwhelming, especially the last year to 18 months,” she said. “We are the people who try to work directly with the addict, try to get that person into treatment. It’s not just the person that’s addicted — you see what happens to the families and the children of those people using.”

Hicks shared a story about him working late on Christmas Eve. As the DA, his office receives all the autopsy reports for the district.

“To sit on Christmas Eve and seeing autopsy report, after autopsy report of people who have died of an overdose, especially people who died because of an opioid overdose across this district,” he said. “It was really troubling to sit there and think … this is Christmas Eve, those families should have that loved one there. It’s offensive to see so many people dying and the clogging the court system … with cases where people just can’t get away from their addiction.”

Scott said one thing his agency tried to do in 2015 was outreach to students. He said many of the the older programs focused on things like heroin, crack and other “hard” drugs. However, opioids are pills, and pills are what children see everyday from their own medication to what their parents take.

“We were focused on making sure these kids knew the dangers of pills because we are a ‘pill-popping’ society — there’s a pill for everything. From the time you are a kid, you get used to taking a pill,” he said. “That has definitely lead to part of the reason this is such a giant problem because everyone is so comfortable with pills.”

Workshops will continue until Aug. 8 and there will be some health screenings. A schedule of events can be found at health.okstate.edu/cwr.

Editor’s note: Part One of a three part story to be published in subsequent editions of The Duncan Banner.