Colorado’s Opioid Problem: Where We Are Now December 10th, 2019 The Recovery Village at Palmer Lake
Blog & News Colorado’s Opioid Problem: Where We Are Now

Colorado’s Opioid Problem: Where We Are Now

Person pouring white powder onto a spoon.

The opioid epidemic has been a serious issue in Colorado for some time. Where does it stand today? Understanding opioid abuse in Colorado can help you understand the context for a friend or family member’s addiction. Where can improvements be made, and where can you turn for help?

The Opioid Problem in Colorado

What is the status of opioid abuse in Colorado? Opioid drugs are drugs that have a high potential to be habit-forming. It is possible to take them for a very short time and become addicted since they release dopamine, a feel-good chemical that leads to a feeling of euphoria. They cause the chemical makeup of the brain to change quickly, leading to dependence. Hundreds of millions of prescriptions for these drugs are written every year, and some of those who use them for pain will become addicted to these painkillers.

While Colorado is 32nd in the country for drug overdose deaths, a significant number of these are due to opioid use. More could be due to opioids as well; 17 percent of drug overdose deaths do not have a specific drug recorded as the cause of death.

Opioid use occurs across many different demographic groups in Colorado. While more males than females use opioids and more of those using opioids are between the ages of 25 to 44, many women and many younger and older people also use opioids. White, non-Hispanic people and Hispanic people are most likely to use opioids, but again there is diversity in who uses these drugs; African-Americans and Native Americans also use them. Most of the deaths occur in the southeastern corner of Colorado and Metro Denver.

Unfortunately, the one trend that is consistent is the rise in the use of opioids. There has been a huge increase in heroin overdoses in the state since 2006, about 500 percent. These numbers echo a CDC report that stated that “opioid overdose deaths quadrupled from 8,050 in 1999 to 33,091 in 2015 and accounted for 63 percent of drug overdose deaths in the United States in 2015.” Over the years, the numbers have only increased as people move from the use of prescribed painkillers into opioid addiction.

Where Are the Ongoing or Emerging Problems?

The increase in deaths and in naloxone use for overdoses points to the continued severity of the opioid crisis in Colorado. These deaths are due to the increase in the supply or heroin, mixing fentanyl into the supply, and the increase in deaths due to synthetic opioids that are not heroin.

While prescription rates have fallen in Colorado from 73 prescriptions per 100 residents in 2011 to 59.8 in 2016, there are still many opioid deaths. Here are a few reasons why:

  • One problem in Colorado is the inconsistent access to treatment for opioid drug use. Treatment includes detox, residential treatment, outpatient services, and methadone clinics. Six counties have no access to any of these forms of treatment. These include Kiowa, Gilpin, Mineral, Hinsdale, San Juan, and Dolores counties.
  • Most counties have access to at least one form of treatment, but unfortunately, it might not be the best treatment for every person. Only twelve counties have access to all four methods of treatment.
  • While naloxone is the best antidote for an overdose, it is also inconsistently available in different parts of the state. While it is easy to access in Denver and pharmacies can distribute it over-the-counter through a standing order, many parts of the state do not have easy access.

More people in Colorado are seeking out treatment for their opioid addiction. However, even as those numbers rise, the number of naloxone treatments is also rising. This means that addiction is still a growing problem, even as treatment centers work to address those addictions. More needs to be done to stop the problem at all stages.

Group of people meeting in a support group.

Family therapy is another aftercare option for those who need to work through family dysfunction.

Where Could Improvements Be Made?

There is always room for improvement in managing the drug problem in Colorado. The Denver Post states that “the state’s problem is not the worst in the nation — actually the state ranks in the middle of the pack — but significant gaps in prevention and treatment for drug addiction remain, according to experts.”

  • There need to be more treatment options for users across the state.
  • Access to naloxone must become widespread rather than only focused in the Denver area.
  • There is the possibility of a safe injection center in the Denver area; this would reduce the spread of disease from needles.
  • There is a need to limit the number of new addicts. Since heroin addiction can spring from addiction to other opioid drugs that are used as painkillers, Colorado is looking at implementing limits on the number of pills that a doctor can prescribe.
  • Since users are more likely to become addicted if their first prescription lasts for a long time, it would also be helpful to have a limit on the length of initial opioid prescriptions to reduce the likelihood of addiction.

Where to Turn for Help: Colorado Drug Rehab

If you or any of your loved ones are in need of Colorado drug rehab, where can you turn? You can turn to your rehab and recovery center to see how they can help you with your need for treatment. For example, at The Recovery Village, you will find:

  • Medical assistance for the transition off drugs and alcohol to help you move into recovery safely
  • Inpatient programs that allow you to have a regular connection with staff and activities such as individual and family therapy
  • A variety of outpatient programs that allow you to access therapy and other rehab programs while living at home or in sober housing. These might also allow you work during your outpatient therapy.
  • Aftercare programs that help you maintain your recovery in the long term.
  • Staff experienced with dual diagnoses so that you can get help for your depression, anxiety, or other mental illness and make it easier to move into recovery.

At The Recovery Village at Palmer Lake, we are dedicated to supporting you and your family members in recovery. If you are looking for options for Colorado drug rehab, contact us to learn more about our many rehab options.

Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.