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What Happens When You Treat The Addiction Crisis Like A Natural Disaster


(NPR) – When he was police chief of Stanwood, Wash., population 7,000, Ty Trenary thought rural communities like his were immune from the opioid crisis.

Then, one day, a mother walked through his door and said, “Chief, you have a heroin problem in your community.”

“And I remember thinking, ‘Well that’s not possible,’ ” Trenary recalls. “This is Stanwood and heroin is in big cities with homeless populations. It’s not in rural America.”

But heroin addiction and abuse are not just a big city problem, as Trenary had thought. While the bulk of fatal overdoses still happen in urban areas, the rural overdose rate has increased to slightly surpass that of cities.

Rural Americans say drug addiction and abuse are the most urgent health problems facing their local community, according to a new poll by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. In the poll, 48 percent of people said opioid addiction has gotten worse in their community in the past five years.

Trenary now agrees. A few years ago, he was elected sheriff of Snohomish County and got a rude awakening. He toured the jail and found it had become a de facto detox center, full of “very, very sick, very, very sick people,” he says.

“Detoxing from heroin is like having the worst possible stomach virus you can have. People are proned out, just suffering.”

At any given time, about half the inmates were withdrawing from heroin, making for a dangerous and expensive situation.

“It took becoming the sheriff to see the impacts inside the jail with heroin abuse, to see the impacts in the community across the entire county for me to realize that we had to change a lot about what we were doing,” Trenary says.

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