Opioids Abuse - An Eight-Point Plan
The media has been replete with the saddest of stories about a serious health issue facing all of our communities – prescription drug abuse.
Here are some facts:
- Each day, 44 people die as a result of an opioid overdose – far exceeding car crash deaths.
- According to the Centers For Disease Control And Prevention (CDC), the annual rate of opioid deaths has increased by 200 percent since 2000.
- A significant problem results from prescription painkillers. On March 16, a New York Times article focused on the pressures facing physicians, especially in rural areas of the nation. “Do no harm” is in the medical crosshairs more and more. As state-administered prescription drug monitoring programs clamp down on the practice of over-prescribing, some patients turn to cheaper options, such as heroin.
- Overdose deaths are up in almost every one of Colorado’s 64 counties. According to the widely respected Colorado Health Institute, our state’s drug death rate tops the U.S. average, and has climbed 68 percent between 2002 and 2014.
- The National League of Cities (NLC) and the National Association of Counties (NACO) recently formed a task force to look at how county and municipal governments can work together across the country on opioid abuse. NACO President Sallie Clark, El Paso County commissioner, former Colorado Springs councilmember, and great CML supporter, is a major player in this initiative.
Two recent news articles deserve mention.
On March 7, Cortez Journal ran excellent story about this issue and the challenges facing Montezuma County and the related pressures on local law enforcement.
The Denver Post recently focused on overdose deaths in rural areas of the state, especially in southern Colorado, where eight counties reached the highest levels that the CDC statistically measures – 20 or more deaths per 100,000. And, it isn’t just a rural problem, Denver and Adams County peaked at the same number.
The Colorado Springs Gazette recently featured a coalition in the Pikes Peak region addressing the epidemic of opioid-related overdoses.
The Colorado Consortium For Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention has been meeting through several task forces to address the many facets of this issue. Dr. Robert Valuck from the University of Colorado Skaggs School of Pharmacy has been capably leading that effort. Dr. Larry Wolk, head of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, has been overseeing the governor’s work. I appreciate what Rob and Larry are doing.
Let me highlight an eight-point plan municipal leaders can undertake to collectively represent city and town interests.
- Ensure that every first responder in this state has an adequate supply of Naloxone, which has proven to be a key antidote for drug overdoses, sort of like the EpiPen for certain food allergies. An increasing number of police and fire response agencies are acquiring the drug, but we need to extend the reach statewide. We will be working on ways to get Naloxone distributed more comprehensively through our participation in the national local government purchasing cooperative, U.S. Communities.
- Join Gov. John Hickenlooper and state legislators to increase the amount of community wide education which needs to occur to stop this scourge. State and local government leaders need to talk openly and honestly about it, and acknowledge that the problem exists and reaches all four corners of our state.
- Work toward identifying permanent, ongoing safe disposal sites (“drop boxes”) for unused or outdated prescription drugs to be available in every city and town in this state.
- Ensure that health centers receive the support they need from local leaders. We were pleased to see that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently awarded nearly $2 million to five such facilities in the state to improve and expand the delivery of substance abuse services.
- Call upon Colorado’s U.S. House delegation to pass legislation similar to that which the Senate just adopted (with only one “no” vote) to put forward some additional national solutions. This is not a partisan issue, it is simply good public policy.
- Recognize that this is not just an issue for law enforcement and emergency medical responders to deal with. While public safety agencies at the federal, state, and local level should continue their focus on the suppliers of opiates and heroin, including prescription mills, they cannot address this alone. It will take a comprehensive approach in each community involving medical personnel, hospitals, social service agencies, mental health providers, pharmacies, clergy, school district officials, and many more. These efforts should be supported by local government officials.
- The League will begin to participate in consortium meetings and provide ongoing updates to city and town leaders.
- Embrace those families who have been so deeply and tragically affected by prescription drug abuse and let them know that we care about them and we share their pain. Let us involve them in our efforts.
Let me know of your interest and commitment to join the battle to combat opioid abuse.