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Lane County Community Health Centers cut number of patients on opioids nearly in half

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EUGENE, Ore. -- More than a hundred Americans die every day from an opioid overdose. The CDC calls it an epidemic.

Opioid use affects every single state, city and community in our country.

It's long been seen as out of control, but now, Lane County has a solution.

To get out of a crisis, first we have to know how we got to a point with more deaths from opioid overdoses than car accidents.

"For years, 10 to 15 years, we kept trying to medicate and medicate more and more pain without the general knowledge that people can get addicted and more so than we realized," said Dr. Patrick Luedtke, Lane County Chief Medical Officer.

Or how Susan Price got here, so doped up she called herself a zombie.

"I had one doctor prescribing me constant oxycodone month after month after month and it wasn't doing anything so he would just keep upping the dose," Price said.

Or how Kriket Hollingsworth got here, with 50 years of opioid addiction.

"By the time I was 10 or 11, I discovered my mom's pain pills and sleeping pills and my grandma's diet pills and so oh good I feel better when I take one of these," she said.

Every single one of the millions of Americans on opioids has a different story.

RELATED | Data shows Roseburg VA has highest opioid prescribing rate in U.S.

"We got here in a variety of ways and we're going to get out of here in a variety of ways," Luedtke said.

Lane County Community Health Centers has a way.

Dr. Rick Kincade is the medical director.

He has a team that develops alternatives; they taper doses of opioid medications while adding other treatments like acupuncture or water therapy.

"We have to address some of those cultural things and empower people to be more active really active roles in dealing with their pain and not turning necessarily to medications," Kincade said.

And it works. How do they know? They've done it.

The Lane County Community Health Centers have reduced the number of patients using opioids by 40 percent in the last six months.

Hundreds of people once on opioids now aren't.

Like Kriket: "I jumped on it. I was first in line. I was the first patient."

She does acupuncture weekly.

"Pain is inevitable, suffering is universal, but misery is a choice," she said. "I'm 65 and I made it. It's like yeah, I can do this."

Like Susan. She does acupuncture too and lots of meditation.

"My migraines are almost gone. I might have one a week but it's very short term. It lasts an hour maybe two hours at most," she said.

She can once again take care of her kids.

"I am no longer a zombie so that is fantastic. I can participate in life with my children. I can do homework with them. I can think. I can do so much more," she said.

That's just two people. There are so many more.

And doctors say these alternatives can be implemented across the country.

"This is an epidemic that's been paralyzing our nation paralyzing our small communities. we've watched in the rear view mirror for far too long. now we're looking out the windshield and we're trying to make a difference going forward," Luedtke said.

Doctors say it's just the start, but it's something, and it's more than we've been able to say for the past two decades.

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