Washington Opioid Summit Highlights Medication-Assisted Treatment, Stigma

By Victoria Kim 06/20/17

Experts gathered in Washington to discuss ideas and solutions on how to curb the state's drug epidemic. 

Attorney General Bob Ferguson
Attorney General Bob Ferguson hosted the two-day event Photo via YouTube

Last Thursday and Friday, local experts gathered at the University of Washington in Seattle to discuss solutions to the epidemic of opioid use and overdose in the state.

Attorney General Bob Ferguson hosted the two-day summit, which gave experts in law enforcement, medicine, criminal justice and public health a platform to exchange ideas and solutions regarding the growing drug problem that’s affecting not just Washington, but the rest of the United State. 

According to the CDC, more than 33,000 Americans died from opioid overdose in 2015—with nearly half of them involving a prescription opioid. 

In The Seattle Times’ coverage of the Summit on Reducing the Supply of Illegal Opioids in Washington, reporter Bob Young focused on the harm reduction advocacy presented by some of the speakers at the event.

According to The Times, 718 Washingtonians died of opioid overdose in 2015.

“Nancy Reagan was wrong,” said Seattle Fire Department Capt. Jonathan Larsen, one panelist who works with paramedics who respond to drug overdose calls. “This is a changed brain. Medication-assisted treatment works. Nothing else works or we wouldn’t have the problem we have now.”

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is the use of addiction or “maintenance” medication such as Suboxone or methadone to help individuals wean off of addictive opioid drugs (e.g., heroin, opioid painkillers) in conjunction with counseling or behavioral therapy and medical, vocational and educational guidance.

Another proponent of MAT who spoke at the summit was King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg, who said he “really believes” in MAT’s place in a comprehensive recovery plan.

Local MAT programs are already reaching full capacity, illustrating the need for greater access to MAT treatments, said Caleb Banta-Green, senior research scientist at UW’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute.

Satterberg also discussed the need to redefine how we address people’s excessive drug use. This includes chipping away at the stigma surrounding substance abuse.

“The opposite of addiction is not sobriety, it’s connection,” said Satterberg. “Too many people are clinging to old ideas which are downright dangerous in this field.”

Seattle police officer Steve Redmond, the founder of Code 4 Northwest, a volunteer-run crisis response and referral network, and board member of Not One More, a community group aiming to de-stigmatize addiction and support people in recovery, is on the same page.

“[Addiction] is a treatable medical condition no different than cancer or multiple sclerosis,” said Redmond.

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr