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Experts Say Stopping The Opioid Crisis Will Take A Village

Expert panel on the opioid crisis.
Experts from all walks of life gathered for the USF Health Interprofessional Day to discuss the opioid crisis. ALYSIA CRUZ/WUSF PUBLIC MEDIA

From medical professionals to law enforcement to recovering addicts, the opioid crisis has affected people from all walks of life.

At a University of South Florida symposium Wednesday, experts said it will take them all working together to end the opioid crisis.

Retired emergency room nurse and recovering opioid addict, Jack Stem, is now a chemical dependency counselor. He compared addiction to Type 2 diabetes, saying that both diseases are genetically based and lifestyle and environmentally induced. He said addiction should be treated with equal importance.

“Why don't we treat Type 2 diabetics the way we treat addicts?” Stem said. “Because we accept that as a disease. So I think that's one of the big problems is people see this as a choice and I'm here to tell you, I didn’t choose this.”

Type 2 diabetes is treated in multiple ways, like weight management, insulin, and a change in diet. Tampa Mayor Jane Castor said addiction should be looked at the same way.

“We must approach addiction in a variety of ways, identifying physiological and psychological causes, as well as taking steps to avoid putting people in addictive situations, such as using nerve blocks, as opposed to narcotics whenever possible,” Castor said.

She says treatment needs to be tackled collectively.

“Effectively addressing the opioid crisis is going to take our entire community,” Castor said. “Law enforcement, USF, and other community partners will have to work together from a variety of approaches in order to make progress in this issue.”

RELATED: WUSF coverage of the opioid crisis

Cindy Grant, executive director of the Hillsborough County Anti-Drug Alliance, says the first step is using “person-centered language.”

“We want to refer to them as people with a substance use disorder. They are patients, they are not addicts,” Grant said.

Stem said addressing the stigma associated with addiction by telling his story is the best way to create a recovery community.

“It takes a family, it takes a village, to succeed and stay clean and sober,” Stem said.

Alysia Cruz is the WUSF Stephen Noble news intern for the fall 2019 semester. She earned her Bachelor’s degree at the University of South Florida in Communication and is now enrolled at USF St. Petersburg, pursuing her Master’s in Digital Journalism & Design concentrating on food writing.
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