CHICO, Calif. - When looking at opioid overdose deaths, statistics show several Northstate counties are among the highest percentage in the state.
Dr. Mark Lundberg works for Butte County Behavioral Health, specializing in opioid addiction. He calls it a remarkably severe disease but also said the response can be incredibly rewarding to see.
"Opiates become an all-consuming need in these people's lives," Dr. Lundberg said. "They have to take an opiate just to feel normal."
One patient told him every day she woke with one mission.
"Where do I find the money and where do I find the drug? That was her mission," Dr. Lundberg explained. "It takes hours, it takes an incredible amount of work. Patients usually describe that they are just tired of being tired."
They're not alone. There were 1,925 opioid overdose deaths in California in 2016. Sixteen of those were in Butte County. This according to a consensus from the California Department of Public Health, the California Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development and the California Department of Justice. Between 2012-2014, the Butte County Coroner's Office reported that 126 people died from opioids.
"Butte County, if we look at the number of overdose deaths, we're in the top of California, not the very top, but we're in the top quarter, or top third of the state," Dr. Lundberg said.
Shasta County had 15 overdose deaths, Siskiyou County had seven, Lassen County had four and Trinity County had two.
What may come as a surprise is most of those overdoses in the state were people over 55 years old. "I think this disease can touch almost anyone's life," Dr. Lundberg said. "These drugs are, what I call, innocently prescribed to people for a lot of conditions, so folks that were not planning to be an opioid addict and not looking to be an opiate addict can find themselves trapped."
It's an addiction that causes broken relationships with family and friends all in order to support a habit that Dr. Lundberg said is really hard to break. "Because the withdrawal from opiates is so painful for people and so uncomfortable, it's not life-threatening, but it feels life-threatening."
Treatment is always possible, but it's a very long process. "I think a lot of the treatment approaches is helping people realize that they have to be on guard for the rest of their life, that they are prone to relapse," Dr. Lundberg explained.
He said he typically will prescribe his patients Suboxone, a safer, less addictive opiate that can only be prescribed by a doctor with the proper qualifications. But this is only an option for patients after he feels they are truly committed to changing their life.
"They have to be involved with groups, they have to be involved with counselors, they have to involved with therapists," Dr. Lundberg explained.
He also added that there's a lot patients must understand about themselves in order to beat the addiction.
"What were they avoiding? What was this drug treating? Understand what is it about their life that made this the option they chose and how can they unravel that to help them make better choices?"
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