“We interviewed people who had been in recovery for 20 years, and they said they were still viewed in their community as a ‘junkie’ and an addict and can’t get a job,” said Jennifer Reynolds of Oak Ridge Associated Universities, which did the study.
|Jennifer Reynolds and Kristin Mattson of Oak Ridge Associated|
Universities discuss their report on communication about opioids
in Appalachia. (News Sentinel by Brianna Paciorka)
"The researchers noted some cultural attitudes that contribute to the problem," Nelson reports. "They include an expectation of privacy that keeps neighbors or friends from intervening; a willingness to 'share' pills with someone else experiencing pain; a lack of other opportunities, especially for younger people; and a normalization of dealing with pain by taking pills obtained from a doctor. . . . Some people, they found, don’t realize prevention efforts are aimed at them." One said, “I’m not taking opioids, I’m taking hydrocodone.” That's an opioid. “So they dismissed the message,” Mattson said.
Physicians and rural isolation are part of the problem. "Every focus group had members who said physicians provided them or family members, including children, larger-than-necessary quantities of opioids; a few said they’d gotten 'pushback' from doctors when refusing pills, even when patients told doctors they were in recovery for opioid addiction," Nelson writes. Few, if any, pain-control alternatives are available in small rural communities, such as physical therapy, massage or acupuncture.
The residents said physicians need more training on how to inform patients about opioid use and abuse, and communities need more places to dispose of drugs, as well as better education about drugs, how to properly use opioids and what to ask doctors. Some also called for "random drug testing of youth — to link them with services, not punish them; better access to treatment, including medication-assisted therapies such as suboxone and methadone; peer support for those hospitalized after an overdose or jailed after a drug crime; and more nonjudgmental messages framing addiction as a long-term health problem rather than a moral failing."
The discussion groups also "suggested sharing detailed stories that could make a difference: how it feels to have your child removed because of your drug use; why your mother might be relieved you’re in jail because she knows — at least that day — you aren’t dead; how a legally obtained prescription from a doctor can lead to addiction; and how people do find a way back."
Reynolds, who is ORAU's section manager for health communication, recommends that the news media report more success stories so readers who use opioids don't feel discouraged. At least one recovering addict in Appalachia is being very proactive in taking his story to the public through local newspapers. Phillip Lee of Albany, Ky., writes a column for the Clinton County News and other area newspapers, free of charge.
Reynolds and Mattson's report, "Communicating About Opioids in Appalachia," was produced with two other federal agencies, the Appalachian Regional Commission and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is based on interviews with 25 people in 12 of the 13 ARC states and a dozen focus groups in the Central Appalachian towns of London, Ky.; Kingston, Tenn.; Oneida, Tenn.; and Princeton, W. Va.