Colorado is struggling in the grip of a health crisis that is also sweeping the nation as a whole. Over 90 overdose deaths occur every day in America; last year over 30,000 people died from opioid misuse. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the cost is an estimated $78.5 billion a year in the areas of health care, criminal justice systems, and work productivity.
It is important to understand the opioid epidemic in Colorado in order to keep yourself, your friends, and your family safe. Know what to look for in prescription drug abuse, and how to help somebody struggling with addiction.
What Are Opioids?
Opioids include prescription pain relievers, heroin, and fentanyl, a synthetic opioid. When taken as prescribed, they are excellent pain relievers and often improve the quality of life for many people, including those suffering from chronic pain and patients battling cancer. Opiates produce a mildly euphoric feeling as they stimulate the release of dopamine in the brain. It is that feeling that can easily lead to abuse, and the feeling is increased by taking too much of the drug or ingesting it improperly.
Fentanyl, in particular, is a deadly substance contributing to the current epidemic. Illicitly produced fentanyl is being added to counterfeit prescriptions drugs as well as street drugs like heroin and cocaine. Due to its high fat-solubility, fentanyl reacts quickly in the brain and can produce an extremely intense high. This makes fentanyl highly addictive and dangerous when added to other drugs.
Just two milligrams of fentanyl is enough to result in overdose and death. That explains why this drug is partly responsible for the sharp increase in overdose deaths across Colorado and the nation.
How Did This Happen?
In the 1990’s, pharmaceutical companies told doctors that opioids were not highly addictive and addiction was easily treatable. Opioid prescriptions have since increased dramatically, resulting in the public health crisis that exists today. States like Ohio have recently filed lawsuits against certain pharmaceutical companies for making false claims.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse has some startling facts concerning misuse of prescription opioids:
- Roughly 21 to 29 percent of patients prescribed opioids for chronic pain misuse them.
- Between 8 and 12 percent develop an opioid use disorder.
- An estimated 4 to 6 percent who misuse prescription opioids transition to heroin.
- About 80 percent of people who use heroin first misused prescription opioids.
The rise of heroin abuse can be linked back to prescription opioids; they are chemically similar and produce similar effects. However, heroin is often cheaper and easier to find than prescription pills, especially if your doctor has stopped prescribing them for you.
The Impact on Colorado
Colorado has not escaped the effects of the opioid crisis. A recent report by the Colorado Prescription Drug Monitoring Program highlights some of the devastating impacts on the state:
- Approximately 224,000 Colorado residents misuse prescription drugs annually.
- Colorado’s overdose rate has been consistently higher than the national average since 2000.
- In 2016, over 7 million opioid prescriptions were written for Colorado residents.
- In 2015, 37 percent of all drug poisoning deaths in Colorado involved prescription opioids.
If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction to opioids in Colorado, help is available.
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