Posted: Mon, February 17 2014 at 6:52 PM, Updated: Wed, February 19 2014 at 2:01 AM
Medford, Ore. -- Every year dozens of Southern Oregonians go to bed on pain medication and never wake up. According to the Jackson County Health Department, the pill problem is now an epidemic.
A group of Southern Oregon medical experts is on the forefront of change. The Opioid Prescribers Group started in 2011 and they're releasing new guidelines to change the way the Rogue Valley treats people with chronic pain; people like Michelle Marikos, who was addicted to pain pills for a decade.
"I missed a lot of opportunities. I spent many many days in bed."
In 2003, Marikos says a sorority sister pushed her off of a second story porch. She broke three vertebrae. It wasn't just the injury, but the medicine doctors would give her to ease her pain, that would bring her life to a screeching stop.
"I have no reason to get out of bed so I'll just stay in bed and be depressed."
Marikos was on a cocktail of Opioids; Oxycodone, Oxycontin, Morphine Sulfate and more. But they never really made her feel better. A study from the University of Washington shows Opioids are less than 30% effective in treating chronic pain. And Jackson County Health Director, Jim Shames says the risk of abusing them is high.
"We have more people dying in our county in our state in our country from pills then we have from motor vehicle accidents."
Shames says decades ago, Oregon was on the forefront of treatment, but now leads the country in pill abuse.
"We are a state with a problem and a county with a big problem."
The Southern Oregon Opioid Prescribers Group is trying to change that problem. The group consists of 70 members. Over the last three years and with the help of $300,000 dollars in grant money, the group finished a book of guidelines for local doctors. It suggests Non-Opioid treatments, like therapy, both physical and psychological.
Ashland Clinical Social Worker, Laura Heesacker says it's about learning to live with the pain.
"Pain gets imbedded in the body so one way to bring it forward is to talk about it. Constantly recognizing when your mind is wondering into a place where it's not helping and bringing it back."
Central Point Doctor, Brandan Hull has been following the OPG guidelines for the last six months. He says it's a major shift in the way he treats patients with pain.
"It adds extra time because I am explaining to my patients that we are not singling them out they're not bad people they're taking medicine with a higher risk."
He assesses every pain patient's risk of addiction, even checking their urine for signs of drug use.
The next step for OPG is trying to get more doctors like Hull on board. It's a big job, but Michelle Marikos knows it will be worth it. In July, Marikos went to the Mayo Clinic to taper off the pills and get therapy, therapy she continues at home once a week.
"I don't want to be back in bed i don't want to be the person i was i don't want severe depression i like being clear headed."