There is a crisis facing the region, one carved out by pills and needles. One scrawled onto prescription pads and filled at pharmacies or bought on the streets and injected into veins.
Opioids continue to be a scourge in El Paso County, although a report issued by County Coroner Dr. Leon Kelly indicates that the newest version of “bad” maybe isn’t as horrible as it has been in the past. The report, released on June 5, showed that in 2018, 87 county residents died of opioid-related causes.
We say that’s 87 deaths too many … even though it is a drop from the 102 opioid-related drug deaths of 2017. And get this: According to the report, 12 percent of the meds that caused the deadly overdoses were prescribed by the decedent’s physician.
To top it off, Colorado remains grossly underserved when it comes to treatment options. In 2018, only 22 facilities in the entire state offered medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction, according to the Colorado Consortium for Prescription Drug Abuse. Only one of those, Colorado Treatment Services-Springs, operates in El Paso County.
And yet 87 people in this same county died because of the drugs last year.
So it’s not hard to see why Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser is suing OxyContin manufacturer Purdue Pharma. The drugmaker in March closed a $270 million lawsuit brought by the state of Oklahoma; and in April Weiser told Colorado Publishing House staff, including some members of the editorial board, that settlement dollars could fund a multi-pronged counterattack that includes pumping up treatment options here in Colorado.
Nor is it tough to comprehend why other organizations are taking it upon themselves to mend broken hearts and punctured veins. As described in this week’s edition of the Independent, peer counselors are taking up residence in local emergency rooms to reduce stigma and guide patients through the detox process; and so-called “clubhouses” provide recovering addicts with jobs, counseling and the non-judgmental support they need to return to society.
Meanwhile, what is our county leadership doing to battle the bane? (Insert the sound of crickets chirping, here.)
While counties throughout our state, and states across the nation, are holding legally accountable the manufacturers of these highly addictive drugs, El Paso County has opted out.
While local health-care providers and health departments elsewhere on the Front Range host needle exchanges aimed at reducing the spread of both dirty needles and life-threatening infections, El Paso County has opted out. Want to access one of the programs that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has declared both effective in preventing the spread of HIV and a gateway anti-drug for those who want to kick the habit? Sober up, saddle up and head to either Denver or Pueblo.
And yet, 87 deaths in 2018.
The numbers are telling. Clearly for some, the siren song of the drug still calls. When will our county decide to answer? When it’s not too busy tilting at windmills like it is with its pushback against the common-sense Red Flag bill?
It’s time for our county leaders to step up. Reverse bad precedent. Open a county needle exchange and join the lawsuits that could help fund a real, significant recovery effort here in Colorado Springs.
Take the steps to save a life, before 2018’s No. 87 becomes this year’s 88.