Armed with powerful statistics and devastating personal anecdotes, a group of about 50 gathered Wednesday to partake in an “opioid dialogue.”
The get-together, sponsored by Thrive Allen County, drew professionals from all walks of life, from District Judge Daniel Creitz to Iola Fire Department ambulance crews, pharmacists, teachers and law enforcement personnel.
The aim, moderator Linda Whitworth-Reed explained, was to bring to light the growing opioid epidemic, stemming in large part from the abuse and misuse of prescribed drugs, and to determine if there are ways to collaborate and find solutions.
ONE POWERFUL story came from Nathan Fawson, executive director of the Southeast Kansas Mental Health Center, who spoke about growing up as a child and idolizing his uncle.
“I admired him,” Fawson said. “I adored him.”
His uncle eventually became a successful professional, got married and had five kids.
The story turned, Fawson said, when his uncle became addicted to prescription medicine.
The addiction soon spread throughout the family, to the point his uncle’s wife and son both eventually died of drug overdoses. He lost custody of his other children.
“I remember sitting by my uncle as a child on the couch,” Fawson said, “and I again remember sitting by him on the couch as an adult.”
The second occurrence wasn’t by choice. “It wasn’t because he wanted to be there, and it wasn’t because I wanted to be there. It was because he was in desperate straits, and it all began with an addiction to prescription medicine.”
DAVID TOLAND, Thrive CEO, noticed a recent uptick in young deaths in Iola and Allen County.
“We’ll read the obituaries, and see people who died at 47 or 52 or 33,” Toland said. “There’s all this talk quietly that something’s going on, but it’s never been brought out in a public forum.”
So he started looking at the statistics.
Sure enough, the rate of deaths in Allen County were triple the state average from 2012 to 2014.
At one point, Allen County registered 157 opioid prescriptions for every 100 residents. (That number has since been reduced to about 96 such prescriptions for 100 residents; still a staggeringly high number.)
“Something’s going on, and it’s affecting people’s lives,” Toland concluded.