Stemming the Tide of Opioids in Colorado
Senator Kevin Lundberg (R-Larimer County)
The story is becoming all too familiar: a young man has his wisdom teeth removed or perhaps a teenage girl suffers an injury during a basketball game and the doctors rush to prescribe something for the pain. These kids are motivated and on a positive path, but after a few refills, the young man stops showing up to work and no longer calls his family, and the honor student starts to lose interest in her studies, her social life, her sports. Colorado is in the middle of a public health crisis, one that deserves our immediate attention and study.
Prescription opiates and illicit narcotics are not only stealing the bright futures of too many of Colorado’s young people,but are also affecting countless adults. It is with all our kids in mind that I carry Senate Bill 17-193, a bipartisan bill creating the Center for Research into Prevention Strategies and Treatment of Abuse and Addiction to Opioids, Other Controlled Substances, and Alcohol at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center. This public health crisis has touched too many families in our state—it’s time we show them they have our support.
In 2016, Colorado saw 56 homicides—a steep increase. Yet, that number is still dwarfed by the 442 opioid-related deaths Colorado suffered in the past year. In understanding this crisis, it is important to understand the relationship between opioids and opiates. While opiate related fatalities—sometimes called “natural prescription opioids” like morphine, fentanyl, or percocet—have recently decreased, narcotic deaths from patently illegal substances such as heroin are on the rise.
This connection can be attributed to the natural escalation of drug addiction. Users often start with mild prescription painkillers like vicodin or percocet, then, because of a desire for something with more effect, seek out stronger pills in higher doses until medical professionals discover the abuse. This often results in users turning to the black market, where heroin is frequently the cheapest and most readily available alternative. More and more people around the nation are finding themselves tumbling down this slippery slope.
In a positive trend over recent years, health care professionals are starting to regain control of the situation by keeping a watchful eye over prescription abuse and providing alternative treatments. However, slowing the flow of prescription painkillers is but one piece of a very complex puzzle. Cutting off the supply of prescription opioids can drive more people underground to the black market in search of heroin and other narcotics.
As public servants, it is our duty to pursue a multi-pronged approach to tackle this harrowing issue. We are obligated, not to promulgate new burdensome regulations, but to inform our constituents of the perils of drug abuse. In this continuing battle, we should empower law enforcement to continue their work in stemming the tide of black market narcotics like heroin and opium, and consider increasing treatment options for those who want it and studying strategies for prevention of abuse.
My bill takes a first step in exploring many available avenues to help reverse the negative effects of opioid abuse in Colorado. By using revenue from marijuana sales to fund the Center for Research into Treatment and Prevention, we have found a positive way to build our community from the profits of the marijuana industry just as the spirit of the law intended.
All over Colorado, we’re seeing people in urgent care, emergency room, hospital, in the morgue as a result of opioid overdose. The rates are still far too high with shocking numbers of Coloradofamilies affected--and they need our help battling this dangerous enemy. It is time to refocus our efforts and prioritize our existing resources to put an end to this tragic public health crisis. While providing our first responders with the tools they need to combat the effects, we should also work to arm our citizens with as much information as possible to promote their own safety as well as that of the community.