Terry McAteer: Opioids are the biggest problem in the ‘State of Jefferson’ | TheUnion.com

Terry McAteer: Opioids are the biggest problem in the ‘State of Jefferson’

Terry McAteer

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported that some of the hardest hit areas in the nation concerning the opioid crisis are those that comprise the want-to-be State of Jefferson territory — far Northern California and Southern Oregon counties.

The statistics and report, which are available online, show that counties such as Siskiyou, Del Norte, Shasta and Butte in California along with Coos, Josephine, Curry and Jackson in Oregon have some of the highest opioid prescription rates in the nation. Their rates are comparable to West Virginia and rural Ohio. They are, in fact, five times the rate of counties such as Los Angeles or Alameda.

In particular, Siskiyou County had 117 opioid prescriptions written in 2017 for every 100 residents of the county. In raw numbers, this means over 48,000 opioid prescriptions were written for residents in Siskiyou County in one year. That shocking number is in contrast to Alameda County where only 26 opioid prescriptions were written per 100 residents in one year.

Modoc County has a 44 bed jail facility that is completely full with mainly opioid-related cases according to Sheriff Tex Dowdy.

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I guess we’ll have to wait for more fellow Californians to die, more children to be born to opioid addicted parents and for the social fabric of … small rural communities to disintegrate before we act.

We all remember this past January when 12 Chico young adults overdosed and one died injecting the opiate fentanyl. This in our neighboring city to the north!

Nevada County ranks in the middle of the state regarding opioids prescribed per person. The data shows that Nevada County has been on a marked decline the past few years in the number of opioid prescriptions being written for patients.

While the CDC data does not provide county death rate by opioid overdose, the statewide statistics for California are alarming, showing a 44% increase from 2016 to 2017. California is experiencing some of the greatest statistical increases in use and death from opioids in the nation. In 2017, 2,194 Californians died from an opioid overdose according to the California Department of Public Health. West Virginia, with the highest opioid overdose death rate per capita in the country, had 618 deaths.

What is certainly clear by these statistics is that the opioid crisis is just not relegated to the backwoods of West Virginia or rural Ohio but is an epidemic in primarily rural Northern California. While many of those involved in the State of Jefferson movement are wanting less government involvement, they are certainly needing more government involvement these days to tackle this health-care crisis.

I was curious to see what the candidates were saying (those running for our vacant Assembly seat which represents much of these opioid-affected counties) in their campaign platforms and brochures and their answers in dealing with this epidemic: Elizabeth Betancourt — nothing; Megan Dahle — nothing; Patrick Jones — nothing; Lane Rickard — nothing; and Joseph Turner — nothing.

Most discuss the Second Amendment, helping rural farmers and improving the North State economy but they all took the “ostrich approach” to dealing with the health-care crisis that is affecting all services in their district, from rural health care to law enforcement. This is unacceptable; I guess we’ll have to wait for more fellow Californians to die, more children to be born to opioid addicted parents and for the social fabric of Alturas, Susanville, Quincy, Yreka and other small rural communities to disintegrate before we act.

Prevention is never a sexy campaign seller in rural California as it might mean government intervention. It’s going to take millions of dollars from Sacramento to provide drug counseling, drug prevention and assistance to counties and cities in rural Northern California to overcome this epidemic. Just ask ruby red West Virginia who came begging the feds for assistance.

It also begins with our elected state and Federal representatives facing facts and addressing the issue head-on.

If we have no representatives in D.C. or Sacramento willing to assist their constituents because of an uncomfortable topic that enlists government assistance, then you know what — we will then get what we deserve.

Terry McAteer is a member of The Union Editorial Board. His views are his own and do not represent the views of The Union or its editorial board members. Contact him at editboard@theunion.com.

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