An actor or celebrated singer dies from a mix of opioids and alcohol. A grandfather becomes accidentally addicted to his pills for hip pain. A 13-year-old overdoses on pain pills his friend stole from his grandmother.

Deaths from drug overdose, driven by the increase in prescription painkiller abuse, now outnumber those caused by car accidents. More than 400 Oregonians died from accidental drug overdose in 2011. Adults and teens from Lake Oswego to Medford died.

Doctors provided more than 3.7 million prescriptions for opioids to more than 970,000 Oregonians in 2012, according to Oregon Prescription Drug Monitoring Program. And as doctors prescribe more painkillers to keep patients pain free, opioid addiction and deaths from overdose have skyrocketed.

Addiction to prescription opioids — such as Vicodin (hydrocodone), OxyContin (oxycodone), Demerol, Dilaudid and others — now rank as the fastest growing problem in the nation. The Center for Disease Control calls it a national epidemic.

Although statistics can’t capture the agony and grief families suffer when they lose someone to opioid addiction, the facts illustrate the problem we’re facing.

n Oregon had the highest rate in the nation for nonmedical use of prescription pain relievers in 2010-11: 6.4 percent compared to 4.6 percent nationally. (National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 2013)

n Opioid overdose deaths in Oregon increased more than 400 percent from 33 in 2000 to 179 in 2011 (Oregon Health Authority).

Teenage abuse of prescription drugs is so prevalent the Partnership for a Drug-Free America refers to this age group as “Generation Rx.”

The impact on young people is especially troubling. Because our brains aren’t fully developed until our mid-20s, early exposure to opioids can cause permanent neurological changes and behavioral consequences.

Prescription drugs are easy to get, and teens think they are “safe.” But just talk to an emergency-room doctor who has treated a teen who has overdosed on prescription painkillers. Prescription painkillers can be lethal.

Hazelden responds with innovative programming

The death rate associated with opioids is an unspeakably tragic public health crisis. It demands up-to-date, evidence-based treatment to offer the brightest promise of recovery.

To give patients the best chance of long-term recovery, Hazelden, the pre-eminent nonprofit addiction treatment provider in the nation, responded to the crisis with innovative programming.

Our new treatment program, the “Comprehensive Opioid Response With the Twelve Steps” or COR-12, builds on the foundation of our current model while adding medications proven to engage people in treatment longer, thus improving their likelihood of abstinence. Our goal will always be abstinence.

We must move past stigma and let evidence-based science and compassion guide our response to this crisis. The most important advice I can give families dealing with drug abuse is to remember that addiction is a disease like any other. Treat it like a disease and get help.

Hazelden operates two facilities in Oregon: Hazelden at Springbrook in Newberg and Hazelden at Beaverton at 866-866-4662 calls are answered 24/7.

Marvin. D. Seppala is chief medical officer with Hazelden Foundation and is a national addiction expert who lives in Wilsonville.

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