The city of Auburn is dealing with the growing opioid epidemic head-on.
"You can hate heroin, but never stop loving those people that you care for," Dr. Stephen Anderson told the crowd at the Auburn Ave. Theater during Thursday night's Town Hall.
Anderson was part of the panel discussion comprising members of the medical field, emergency responders, and behavioral specialists.
Mayor Nancy Backus hopes by opening a dialogue with the community about the problem; the city can find solutions. One of those solutions will not include safe injection sites.
"The city of Renton and the city of Auburn were no votes on that," said Auburn Mayor Nancy Backus.
But Thursday's forum focused on what could work for Auburn, and it begins with the doctor's office or hospitals where many say opioids are overly prescribed.
"Pain is no fun, but not every pain needs an opioid to cure it," said Dr. Anderson.
Instead, he told the crowd he starts with over-the-counter painkillers and then works up to opioids as a last result. The fewer prescriptions written, the fewer that wind up on the street. But prevention and education are only part of the equation.
"In order to get to people, we have to do two things. We have to reduce shame and prejudice," said Brad Finegood.
He's the Assistant Division Director of the King County Department of Community and Human Services Behavioral Health and Recovery Division. Don't let the long title fool you. He's like so many others in his community, forever tied to the opioid problem. He shared a story about losing his brother to heroin 12 years ago, and the call from his dad on New Year's Day.
"He's like 'are you sitting down.' Yeah, I'm sitting down. What's up? And he goes, 'your brother's dead.' And from there on out, life changes," said Finegood.
His personal story helped to illustrate the problem, but he's not some guy on the street. In this case, his brother was a college grad, he had a good career, and life was going great. And then it wasn't. Mayor Backus made the point another way.
"We don't think poorly of someone who has a broken arm and goes in for treatment. We shouldn't think poorly of someone who has a substance abuse problems and goes in for treatment," she said. "It's our babies, our loved ones, our friends, and we can't afford to let this happen anymore."
The conversation has begun. Now the real work begins; implementing real change to turn things around in Auburn and every other city that could be home to the next epidemic.