Opioid crisis discussed during Summit Daily’s “What’s Brewing” panel discussion
October 17, 2018
In 2017, one American died of a drug overdose every 10 minutes. Of those deaths, 49,000 were related to opioids. Those startling numbers opened the Summit Daily News' monthly "What's Brewing" panel discussion on Wednesday at Colorado Mountain College in Breckenridge. The opioid crisis took center stage at a time when overdoses have become the leading cause of death for Americans under the age of 50.
Jessica Eaddy, community outreach coordinator for the Colorado Consortium on Prescription Drug Abuse based at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, presented unnerving state and national statistics about the epidemic.
For one thing, the old-school approach of tackling drug crime might not do much to affect the current crisis. While taking down dealers might work in cases where the illicit trade is controlled by organized crime, opioids are different. Over half of all non-medical opioid users report their source for drugs are friends or family who give it to them for free. In only about 5 percent of cases did the drugs come from a street dealer.
The crisis also reaches much farther than the overdose deaths.
"The deaths are just the tip of the iceberg," Eaddy said.
For every overdose in 2015, there were 18 people who had a heroin addiction, 62 with a general opioid addiction, 377 who misused an opioid and nearly 3,000 people who used opioids during the past year. The deaths are just the end result of a very expansive problem.
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In Colorado, the story might not be as grim as it is in the Midwest, but the state has certainly seen a staggering increase in opioid abuse in every county. Between 2002 and 2014, the overdose death rate went up 500 percent across the state. There were 1,012 overdose deaths in the state last year, with 560 deaths related to opioids.
A fatal drug overdose takes place every eight hours and 40 minutes in Colorado. The spiking ODs started in the southern part of the state before steadily moving north. Eaddy posited that I-25 was the main thoroughfare for drug traffic, thus the slow northward creep.
Amy Wineland, Summit County's director of public health, localized the crisis. Wineland said that one-third of people 12 and older have used drugs non-medically, with one out of every 10 Summit High students admitting to using drugs non-medically. One in 25 Summit households are affected by the opioid crisis and, as of 2015, Summit ranks 11th in the state for overdose deaths per capita.
"Key health experts and practitioners see it as one of the most impactful problems among their clients," Wineland said.
A focus group survey also showed that Colorado residents consider prescription opioid abuse the second-most important mental health issue that needs to be addressed in the state, behind major depression.
On the law enforcement side, FitzSimons revealed that since May of this year, his office has collected 835 pounds of discarded household medications from residents through the county's drug takeback drop-off program. FitzSimons said that early intervention is key for avoiding opioid addiction, which is why he believes in increasing the presence of school resource officers and improving their training to help youths avoid getting into trouble with drugs.
As far as dealing with the crisis in the present, FitzSimons said that all of his personnel and all EMS workers carry and are trained in administering naloxone, the only front-line drug that can stop the effects of an opioid overdose. FitzSimons also sits on a statewide drug task force looking to combat the epidemic with cooperative enforcement strategies.
In the end, though, Eaddy said the only way to really tackle the opioid crisis is by changing our own behaviors as consumers.
"Society has trained people that pain doesn't or shouldn't exist," Eaddy said. "We have sort of trained this generation to expect that you should live a pain-free life, which is not realistic. The prescriber mindset needs to change from the goal of eliminating pain to more functional, measurable goals, like whether a person can walk to their mailbox, whether they can cook dinner, or go for a short hike. We need to start changing societal expectations about what we can and should expect from medical treatment."
Other panelists at Wednesday's event include Lane Wyatt, the director of the Watershed Services & Summit Water Quality Committee for the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments; Jeannette Kintz, the behavioral health supervisor for Summit Community Care Clinic, and Karie Burns and Dr. Christine Ebert-Santos with the Ebert Family Clinic in Frisco.