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KNBA News - "Addiction is not a bad choice.... not a character flaw. It is a disease of the brain"

Joaqlin Estus

Thur. Aug. 4, 2016

By JoaqlinEstus, KNBA – Anchorage

Addiction to prescription pain killers has become epidemic according to health officials who will be presenting at a wellness summit Thursday [Aug. 4,] in Palmer. Speaking Tuesday on Alaska Public Media’s Talk of Alaska, Alaska Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jay Butler said deaths due to opioid overdoses have quadrupled in the past decade. And U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy said such deaths have tripled nationally since 1990.

Butler says the problem has its roots in the early 20th century when drugs such as cocaine and opium were widely available and a certain percentage of the population became addicted. He says society then over-reacted by prohibiting their use except for limited medicinal purposes.

“And that loosened up slowly over the decades but I think it did lay a foundation of under treatment of pain by physicians throughout much of the century, particularly the mid-part of the decade,” said Butler. “But I think we have swung too far the other direction.”

Murthy is in Alaska to talk with policy makers and care providers about prevention, treatment, and how to safely treat pain.

“I’m also working with community members to change how we think about addiction,” said Murthy. “Because we have to realize that addiction is not a bad choice. It’s not a character flaw. It is a disease of the brain, one that requires the same compassion and care that any other chronic disease does,” said Murthy.

U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan of Alaska says a group of women recovering from opioid addiction brought the issue to his attention, and he has since learned of its seriousness among veterans. Sullivan organized a Wellness Summit with speakers from the Veterans Administration, U.S. Health and Human Services, Alaska Mental Health Trust, and several other agencies, as well as people in recovery. The “Conquering the Opioid Crisis Summit” begins at 9:00 a.m. Thursday at Mat-Su college in Palmer. It’s free and open to the public. 

[Posted Aug. 8, 2016]