Salem Health responds to opioid epidemic

Nov 20, 2017

The use of opioids—including prescription pain medication—was labeled an epidemic long before the president declared a “public health emergency,” last month.

Everywhere you turn, this trend has been in the news. But this news isn’t fake. Statistics in Oregon alone back up the claim:

  • “In 2014, enough opioids were prescribed in Oregon for nearly every person in the state to have a bottle.” — Oregon Assistant Attorney General David Hart.
  • SHHC-2113-LivingWell-ad-Opioid-epidemic-Infographic-3x7U.S. News and World Report found that in Oregon, more drug poisoning deaths involve prescription opioids than any other type of drug.
  • The Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project reports that Oregonians age 65 and older are landing in the hospital for opioid overdoses, abuse, dependence and adverse effects at a greater rate than any other state. 

Salem Health is fighting back.

Salem Health hosted the 2017 Pain Summit in September, sponsored by the Oregon Coalition for Responsible Use of Meds (OrCRUM), which attracted 200 specialists from the medical, pharmacy, dental, behavioral health and addiction fields.

They are creating a regional action plan to reduce prescription drug abuse, misuse and overdose in Marion, Polk and Yamhill counties.

Salem Health’s Pain Clinic has embraced four goals: Reducing pills in circulation, improving the disposal of unused meds, expanding access to treatment and educating the public about the opioid crisis. It has become a major partner in OrCRUM.

“We saw renewed commitment at the Summit to tackle this crisis locally,” said Josh Steenstra, Pain Clinic manager. “We’re creating a ‘to do’ list and working with hospitals and clinics to identify local leaders to step up.”

A patient’s road back from addiction

The best view of this crises is through a patient’s eyes—a patient like Ron Cox from our own community.

“I wasn’t living, I was just fighting the pain,” Ron said. “I literally thought I was going to die. Opioids are a one-way ticket to a place you don’t want to go.” Learn more about how Ron conquered his addiction in this short video.

The clinic follows a two-pronged approach: Following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Guideline to Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain, combined with a holistic approach to reduce dependency through all aspects of health — physical, social and mental.

“The biggest hurdle we help patients overcome is accepting they have a problem with pain medication,” Dr. Coelho said. “After all, nobody wants to be labeled a drug addict, especially if they’re using prescribed drugs.”

The truth about opioids

Opioids — such as hydrocodone and oxycodone — are beneficial when taken for fewer than three months, Coelho noted. Studies show that long-term use doesn’t improve function.

“It’s a vicious cycle because the brain likes the drug, so the body tells the brain it wants more, just to feel normal,” Coelho said. “Our approach is to change the brain signals to change the pain cycle, similar to the classic 12-step recovery process.”

The clinic aims to help patients understand their pain, not feel stigmatized and reduce dependency by prescribing other medications and teaching other options.  

Pictured: Tessie and Ron Cox 

About Salem Health: Salem Health offers exceptional care to people in and around Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley. It comprises hospitals in Salem and Dallas, a medical group of primary and specialty care providers, plus other affiliated services. Visit us at; “Like” us on; follow us on Twitter: @salemhealth; and view us at More information: Salem Health media relations, available 24/7 at 971-718-3157.

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