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Photo by Vladimir Sorokin

COOS COUNTY — To combat opioid abuse and promote safer pain management, local public health organizations have teamed up and called for a summit.

The Oregon Coalition for Responsible use of Medications (OrCRM)'s project manager, Elizabeth White, has been involved in preparing the Southwestern Oregon Opioid Summit: Turning the Tide on Opioid Abuse since early summer.

"The summit is free," White said, "and everyone is invited.

"There are two tracks for people. One is for those in the health system, which talks about better pain management and treatments for opioid dependents. The other track is for community members, which teaches about safe disposal of medications, role of law enforcement and education."

The summit is scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 27, at The Mill Casino-Hotel, 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Registration begins at 7:30 a.m.

"Opioids have been a problem for a long time, but they didn't really become a major problem until 1999," White said. "That was when pharmaceutical companies promoted opioids as a viable pain management option. There was even a study that showed limited danger of abuse for non-cancer pain. It was not well researched."

There was also marketing to doctors telling them opioids were the best course of action to treat pain, and White said many doctors are still "in the groove that those medications are the first line instead of using other alternative practices with less harm."

North Bend Police Chief Robert Kappelman has been a certified drug recognition expert for the past 20 years and said opioids are different from any other drug.

"It is something that cannot be stopped without a treatment program," he said. "There are specific receptors in the brain that are designed to absorb opiates, and that's what makes it so addictive."

Kappelman said he has looked at studies showing as many as 70 percent of heroin addicts started off with legally prescribed opiates. Because of that, he said it is very important that the community recognizes this problem, and that it is not going to go away on its own.

"This is not a problem that can only be addressed by law enforcement or the medical community," he said. "It is going to take community-wide response to battle this issue."

The intent of the summit is to showcase good pain management strategies, and to show that opioids are not the only option for battling pain. White said she hopes to bring communities together to cut off the supply by learning to dispose of old medications properly.

"People keep them in their medicine cabinets because they think they will use them again or don't know how to get rid of them," White said. "But then their 16-year-old takes them to a party and are exposed to drugs they have never been exposed to before."

Since the rise of opioid abuse, Kappelman has seen an increase in brazen home burglaries, increased theft, fraud, armed robberies, which are all crimes often fueled by drug addiction.

"Citizens need to keep themselves and their properties safe by locking their doors, hiding valuables, using alarm systems, keeping and eye on the neighbors," Kappelman said. "Citizens need to understand that those addicted to opiates will go to great measures to make sure not to start the withdrawal process."

The summit will cover the specific challenges faced by Coos County, a plan of action to reduce the number of pills prescribed, and how to expand access to treatment services.

Reporter Jillian Ward can be reached at 541-269-1222, ext. 235, or by email at Follow her on Twitter: @JE_Wardwriter.