Colorado launches campaign to ‘Lift the Label’ on opioid addiction
Author: Marianne Goodland - May 14, 2018 - Updated: May 15, 2018
Corey DePooter and Austin Eubanks were nearly inseparable during high school, sharing a love of the same music and hobbies throughout the first two years of high school. At 16, they had their whole lives ahead of them.
Then came April 20, 1999. Eubanks and DePooter were both students at Columbine High School and in the school’s library that day. DePooter was among the 13 murdered.
Eubanks was shot twice, and the drugs given to him in the hours following the shooting were more harmful to him that he could have imagined.
Eubanks told the story of a dozen years of opioid and substance abuse addiction to a crowd assembled in Denver’s Civic Center Park Monday for the launch of a new statewide campaign to erase the stigma of opioid addiction.
Called “Lift the Label,” the public-awareness campaign is a joint effort the state’s health agencies: the Colorado Department of Human Services, the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
Eubanks spoke in front of a wall of pill bottles: 4,200 of them, each representing 10 Americans who died of heroin or prescription opioid overdoses in 2016.
Within weeks of being shot, Eubanks said he was taking off-label drugs and more than what was prescribed.
He started a career in advertising and never thought of himself as an addict, because he wore a suit and tie to work every day and he wasn’t what an addict looked like, he told the crowd.
At the same time, however, Eubanks was taking up to 400 mg of Oxycontin a day and abusing cocaine and anything else he could get his hands on as his tolerance for the drugs increased.
Eventually, that facade faded. He began to have legal problems tied to his addiction. He went into treatment twice, the second time after waking up in Denver County Jail and not knowing how he got there.
That was April 2, 2011, and he has been clean and sober ever since. “People need to hear our voices,” Eubanks said. Addiction is “not a moral failing.”
Reggie Bicha, executive director of the Department of Human Services, said the message of “Lift the Label” is that help is available and “you are not alone.” He said 67,000 people in Colorado need treatment for addictions yet aren’t getting it, partly because of the stigma associated with addiction.
Then-Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said in 2016 that the opioid epidemic affects more people than cancer, and more people now use opioids than tobacco.
“We want to reduce the stigma,” Bicha said. “It’s support, not judgment. Seeking treatment is a sign of strength.”
A state 24/7 hotline — 1-844-493-TALK — can be the first step to reaching out for help.
The General Assembly passed five measures during the recently-concluded session to deal with the epidemic. Those bills would require physicians to limit opioid prescriptions to a seven-day supply, create new grant programs to help young people with opioid addiction, and expand the availability of behavioral health and residential treatment.
Kim Bimestefer, executive director of the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing, knows first-hand what addiction looks like, growing up in a household with an addicted father.
“Labels are for packages, not for people,” she said. “Reach out for help. You will find no judgment here.”
Those who take opioids aren’t any stronger or weaker, he said, just different. Gov. John Hickenlooper called the epidemic a “preventable natural disaster” and encouraged those prescribed opioids to use them as sparingly as possible.
“If you can handle the pain, don’t take the medications,” he said.
For assistance with an addiction, call the hotline or go to liftthelabel.org.