Community members consider how to address prescription drug and heroin abuse
August 22, 2016
Craig — Community members and human service agencies gathered last week at a community forum hosted by Grand Futures Prevention Coalition and the Moffat County Department of Social Services to learn more about prescription drug addiction, heroin abuse and what might be done to work on these problems now, before they become community epidemics.
"Our main reason for having this discussion is to get a task force up and running now that it's becoming an issue," said Karli Bockelman, Moffat County program director for Grand Futures. "We are seeing use in ages 20 to 40. I'd like to see the task force running before it becomes a major problem for our community."
Overdoses from heroin, prescription drugs, and opioid pain relievers last year surpassed car accidents as the leading cause of injury-related death in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Between 2012 and 2014, Moffat County saw five opiate-related deaths, while Routt and Garfield counties had six each, as reported in July by Craig Daily Press.
"We have had overdose deaths since January," said Ken Davis, director of community integration at Northwest Colorado Health.
At the heart of the problem is the misuse and abuse of prescription medication containing opiates. Opioid derived drugs are synthetic versions of heroin, a narcotic derived from poppies. According to a fact sheet by Mind Springs Health presented at the meeting, opioids are prescribed for pain management and include drugs with brand names such as Percocet, Lorcet, Vicodin, Dilaudid, Morphine and Codeline.
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"We are seeing painkillers sold in the street and in the schools. They are getting them out of medicine cabinets or getting prescriptions and selling them," Craig Police Chief Walt Vanatta, said. "And in some cases, since that is getting harder to do, we are seeing an increase in heroin. This trend is the same all over the country, especially in rural America."
U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, was in Craig on July 21 to hold a round table meeting with the community to learn more about the problem and the type of help communities need as lawmakers in Washington, D.C. work to address the growing problem of prescription drug and heroin abuse.
The day after Tipton's visit President Obama signed into law the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2016. This bill authorizes the attorney general and secretary of health and human services to award grants to address the national epidemics of prescription opioid abuse and heroin use, and to provide for the establishment of an interagency task force to review, modify and update best practices for pain management and prescribing pain medication.
While an important step forward, Tipton also identified the need for more investment in drug abuse prevention and the importance of a strong community support system for people as they transition out of drug treatment programs.
"Ensuring the health and safety of the members of our communities is a shared responsibility," Tipton shared in a recent blog post.
Last week's community forum in Craig was a step in bringing people together to tackle a serious problem, but more community support is needed, according to Vanatta.
"In order for us to cure any problem in society, everyone needs to get involved in working on solutions," he said. "We are not going to have a big decrease unless we can get people to dispose of used prescriptions and we are not going to have a national decrease until we see providers decrease prescriptions and use alternative means of pain control."
Prescription holders need to know that it is a felony to share or sell their prescription medications, according to Davis. Routt County has a prescription drug abuse task force called the RX Task Force and this is something Davis encourages people in Moffat County to consider creating.
Increasing community knowledge in the fight against opioid addiction is the goal of a grant awarded to Grand Futures by the American Medical Association.
"We plan to present at least one and maybe two more community forums where we will hold a drawing for lockboxes," Bockelman said. "Lockboxes allow parents to lock up their medications just as they would lock up guns or alcohol."