A view of Colorado’s opioid-abuse crisis from the frontline in Pueblo
Author: Dan Njegomir - July 5, 2017 - Updated: July 5, 2017
ColoradoPolitics.com and other news media have reported extensively on efforts by the 2017 legislature to tackle the rampant abuse of opioids across Colorado; notably, a pilot program authored by two Democratic state lawmakers from Pueblo was OK’d by their peers and signed into law by the governor. Senate Bill 74, sponsored by Sen. Leroy Garcia and Rep. Daneya Esgar, will use marijuana tax revenue to train practitioners and expand treatment for opioid addiction in Pueblo and Routt counties, two places hit hard by the abuse of the drugs.
Of course, that effort just scratches the surface. It’s tempting whenever the legislature acts on a crisis to declare it solved, but we all know better, and an overview by Pulp Newsmagazine of the ongoing fight against rampant opioid abuse in Pueblo reminds us of the scale of the problem. Pulp’s Kara Mason writes:
The evolution of opioid addiction in Colorado, particularly in Southern Colorado, has been aggressive to say the least.
In April, a multi-agency report under the Colorado Consortium for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention showcased a grave picture of the problem across the state: heroin-related deaths doubled from 2011 to 2015, heroin seizures by Colorado law enforcement increased 2,035 percent during the same time period and the number of people who were in treatment for heroin addiction increased 128 percent.
And one takeaway from Mason’s reporting is that delving deeper into the opioid issue involves more than just legislation; for one thing, it requires concerted action by the communities most affected, like Pueblo:
In each 2015 and 2016, Pueblo County saw 12 overdoses related to opioid use — the highest death count in the state, three times the state rate. And according to Dr. Michael Nerenberg, who runs the mobile needle exchange program in Pueblo, the problem isn’t getting better. It’s getting worse.
At a February Pueblo City Council work session Nerenberg said over the course of a year — June 2015 to June 2016 — the exchange had a reported 3,020 visits, which comes out to just over 250 visits per month. The needle exchange saw 420 total new clients and distributed nearly 200,000 needles. 118,000 were collected by the volunteers, which Nerenberg said is a conservative estimate.
How have city government and other agencies responded? What more could they do? And what role can the federal government play? Read Mason’s story for insights into those and many other questions swirling around Colorado’s opioid crisis. Pueblo is as good a place as any to look for answers; the Steel City is on the frontline of the battle.