opioids | KUOW News and Information


This story is part of NPR's podcast Embedded, which digs deep into the stories behind the news.

In the spring of 2015, something was unfolding in Austin, Ind.

This story is first in our four-part series Treating the Tiniest Opioid Patients, a collaboration produced by NPR's National & Science Desks, local member stations and Kaiser Health News.

Heroin needle
Flickr Photo/William Fahrnbach (CC BY NC ND 2.0)/https://flic.kr/p/qNv4vL

Federal health authorities say there’s an opioid epidemic across the country, and Washington is not immune.

In the Northwest, far more people die from drug overdoses than car crashes, according to Susan Johnson at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

As the drug-related death toll rises in the United States, communities are trying to open more treatment beds. But an ongoing labor shortage among drug treatment staff is slowing those efforts.

For many people struggling with opioid use, a key to success in recovery is having support. Some are getting that support from an unlikely place: their health insurer.

Amanda Jean Andrade, who lives west of Boston in a halfway house for addiction recovery, has been drug- and alcohol-free since October. It's the longest she's been off such substances in a decade. She gives a lot of the credit for that to her case manager, Will — who works for her insurance company.

Three decades ago, the treatment Michele Zumwalt received for severe headaches involved a shot of the opioid Demerol. Very quickly, Zumwalt says, she would get headaches if she didn't get her shot. Then she began having seizures, and her doctor considered stopping the medication.

"I didn't know I was addicted, but I just knew that it was like you were going to ask me to live in a world without oxygen," she says. "It was that scary."

A bill headed to the Idaho House would allow friends and family members of opioid drug users to obtain medication to counteract overdoses.