Helping people who have been suffering through opioid use disorder get back to a healthy and productive life is an overarching goal of the variety of treatment and recovery programs in Skagit County and elsewhere around Puget Sound. Jacob Lund/Getty Images

Helping people who have been suffering through opioid use disorder get back to a healthy and productive life is an overarching goal of the variety of treatment and recovery programs in Skagit County and elsewhere around Puget Sound. Jacob Lund/Getty Images

Public awareness can change minds on the opioid crisis

Skagit County in the middle of efforts to get community talking, expand treatment options

Whether or not you or someone close to you is suffering from opioid use disorder, there’s no mistaking it as the biggest public health crisis facing Skagit County and Western Washington communities today.

As such, the public health, medical and even law enforcement communities are engaged in an ongoing awareness campaign about treatment and recovery services and other resources.

“When it comes to getting individuals into treatment, that engagement piece is huge,” says Margaret Rojas with North Sound Behavioral Health Administrative Services and a member of Skagit County’s Population Health Trust (PHT). “Having that conversation with someone, or directing them toward services is extremely important.”

Awareness efforts, outreach growing

With increased funding for opioid use disorder services in North Puget Sound, getting help has become easier, Rojas says. Not only have awareness campaigns and street outreach expanded, she adds, “we’ve made inroads getting people into inpatient and residential treatment, outpatient clinics and medication-assisted treatment.”

Kristen Ekstran, community health analyst for Skagit County Public Health, says more funding has also been made available for on-the-ground supports. “People in the early stages of recovery sometimes need a lot of support to help them on their journey. We try to remove barriers to them maintaining their recovery program, such as the absence of stable housing or regular transportation.”

Battling the stigmas

It can be easier and emotionally safer to hold the struggles of others at arm’s length, but that doesn’t promote understanding, says Maureen Pettitt, a consultant/researcher who sits on the PHT. Neither does equating recovery from addiction with an act of will power, or relapse as a moral failing, she adds.

The PHT has worked to put a human face on the opioid crisis to reduce stigmas around substance use, organizing public forums to educate the community about the depth of the crisis.

“We have people in important positions in our community who have talked about being up against those issues in their own families,” Pettitt says. “That’s made a huge difference in the thinking of some folks and in reducing the stigma.” When one opens their mind and heart to the struggles and pain of others, Pettitt says, “that’s a transformational moment for many people. Those are the kind of moments we need more of.”

Brain science discussions also work

For people prone to seeing addiction relapse in moral terms, Ekstran says public forums discussing brain science can be helpful. “Understanding changes to the brain with opioid use can give you a whole new perspective,” she says.

There is hope for recovery

“We know opioid use disorder is a chronic, relapse-prone disease, but there is treatment available with a standard of care recognized by the medical community,” Ekstran says. “This is a treatable disease and we should be able to talk about it.”

Resource guide a valuable tool

Prevention, treatment and recovery are all parts of the equation. For information on where to go, who to call or what to do, check out the Skagit County Opioid Resource Guide or visit

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