Born and raised between Petaluma and the coast, Emily Peterson is a fourth-generation Sonoma County resident. Working as a pharmacist, she has seen firsthand the impact of opioid use in the local community.

Close to home

During her clinical rotations, she provided a medication consultation to a young woman suffering from heart failure. Emily and her patient quickly realized that they had grown up close to each other, and in all likelihood, had played together in youth sports.

However, the difference in the two women’s life circumstances at that moment was stark. Emily was at the woman’s bedside because of health complications resulting from long-term methamphetamine use. 

The young woman had started using drugs as an adolescent. She had not understood the serious risk. “If only I had known, if I had been educated about what the decision might cost me,” she told Emily. “I’m laying here almost on my deathbed, and you have your whole future ahead of you. We came from the same place. I just wish I had known more.” This moment was a turning point for Emily, deepening her commitment to support youth in her community who struggle with opioid addiction.

From her training, Emily is well aware of how opioids are beneficial in treating pain and allowing people to heal. But she proceeds with caution because of her deep awareness of the serious risks associated with opioids, even when used with a prescription. These risks are more pronounced when opioids are used over long durations of time. 

“Addiction doesn’t discriminate against anybody: all walks of life, socioeconomic, education, adolescents, adults,” says Emily. “It doesn’t matter.”

One step towards progress is providing more education and information to young people. Another is making sure that people know how to get help and support. In Mendocino and Sonoma Counties, the Mendonoma Health Alliance—in partnership with other local organizations—provides these key services, which are particularly important in more rural communities. “There are providers who understand where you’re coming from, who won’t judge you, and who will accept you with open arms,” she says. “It’s time to heal. Let’s overcome addiction together.”

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