Drug addiction is an atypical subject for High Plains Journal.

When it comes to the opioid painkiller challenge, however, we felt it was time to bring the issue to the forefront.

Chances are good you’ve taken one of the following prescription drugs to relieve pain: hydrocodone, oxycodone, oxymorphone, morphine, codeine and fentanyl. Not only do these opioid medicines do an outstanding job of relieving pain, they have an uncanny ability to help the body relax. As such, opioids can be highly addictive. Overdoses and death, sadly, are not uncommon.

Some pain patients report that as few as one or two opioid pills can bring about addiction-like symptoms. A southeast Kansas physician told me that pain is one of the most common reasons people see their doctor. Opioid drugs are relatively inexpensive, he added. Thus, the opportunity to abuse these high-powered drugs is very good.

Eye-opening elegy

The havoc opioid drugs can wreak was eloquently brought to light in J.D. Vance’s ground breaking book “Hillbilly Elegy,” which topped the New York Times bestseller list in 2016. Vance wrote of growing up in a poor eastern Kentucky community. The economic depression—brought on by closure of factories and families unable to escape a cycle of poverty—led to prolific abuse of easily obtained opioid drugs. In an interview after the book was published, Vance said the number of deaths caused by drug overdose in his home county of Butler, Ohio, was greater than deaths by natural causes.

When I read the book, I couldn’t help but think of parallels between the Ohio Valley and the High Plains: Hard-working people. Few available jobs. Lack of mental health and addiction counseling. Expensive health care costs, and few health care resources, just to name a few.

The reality is, the combination of all these, combined with easy access to highly addictive opioid painkillers, is creating a massive public health problem. The cost to families and communities can be painful. 

Our project

The High Plains Journal staff spent weeks finding sources and researching the problem, with the end-goal to explain how the opioid crisis affects our readers and their communities. The stories they’ve written, which you can find at hpj.com/special/opioids, are both heart breaking and hopeful.

According to joint research presented by the American Farm Bureau Federation and National Farmers Union, 74 percent of farmers and farm workers have been directly impacted by the opioid epidemic. The two entities have created the website www.FarmTownStrong.com to help inform rural Americans about the scope of the crisis, and provide resources for treatment and prevention.

This topic is neither easy to write about nor read about. But the problem is real and needs to be addressed.

We look forward to your feedback.

Bill Spiegel can be reached at 785-587-7796 or bspiegel@hpj.com.

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