By Lisa Bartlett

Like much of the country, Orange County is battling an opioid crisis. Alarming numbers of residents are overdosing and dying each year as a result of abusing prescription painkillers. In South County, deaths resulting from an opioid overdose are most prevalent among older white males. According to the HCA, “Geographically, opioid-related mortality rates decreased between 2016 and 2018 in Orange County as a whole; however, coastal and southern regions of Orange County consistently had higher rates during the 3-year period.” Residents in South County areas of Laguna Beach, Dana Point, San Juan Capistrano, and San Clemente had higher opioid-related emergency department rates during the same 3-year time frame. You can learn more at ochealthinfo.com/opioids.

In an effort to combat this crisis, the OC Health Care Agency (HCA) has launched a major advertising campaign aimed at drawing awareness to the opioid epidemic affecting this segment of our population. In the spring, HCA will be launching another campaign aimed at creating awareness among the most vulnerable in our community—our youth.  This initiative is near and dear to my heart, as the Fifth District includes some of the hardest-hit areas in Orange County for opioid-related deaths.   

You may have seen the TV ad currently running on local cable channels. It is my hope that this information will draw awareness to the dangers of opioid addiction and encourage those using opioids to consult with a doctor on other options that may be available to manage pain. If you have not seen the ad, it can be viewed by visiting wrongforyou.com.

While the County is investing time and resources in this important educational campaign, it is going to take a multi-pronged, all-hands-on-deck, approach to reduce the number of individuals suffering from opioid addiction.

Some ways we are exploring to reverse the trend include:

Safe prescribing

Nobody is going as far as to say that opioids have no place in medicine. The overarching idea is to be more careful, educate patients better and to potentially screen in advance instead of just prescribing opioids as a knee-jerk reaction. There are alternatives for pain management, including prescribing non-opioid pain medications as well as physical therapy, yoga, and acupuncture.

Closing the treatment gap

Patients need education and outpatient care as well. CalOptima, our county health plan, gave a large grant to the Coalition of Federally Qualified Health Clinics with the goal of increasing capacity for outpatient treatment for substance use disorder.

Safe disposal

We are telling people that unused opioids should be disposed of properly and not kept on the shelf “just in case.”

Overall, we need to continue to raise awareness; so please, share this column, post the TV ad on your social networks, tell your friends and family about the potential dangers of opioid misuse. This campaign focuses on reaching that higher-risk population. We need everyone to get involved to help spread the word.

Be on the lookout for our ads, and let me know what you think. I welcome your ideas. We are in this fight together!

Lisa Bartlett is the chairperson of the Orange County Board of Supervisors. She was reelected in 2018.

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