DENVER – A drug-abuse specialist told a newly formed panel tasked with studying the health issue that the prevalence of addiction in Colorado requires policymakers to evaluate the problem as one that is common, not rare.
“This is more than diabetes, this is more than asthma. This is getting into the level of hypertension and other very common disorders,” Robert Valuck, representative for the Colorado Consortium for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention, told the Opioid and Other Substance Use Disorders Interim Study Committee at its inaugural meeting Monday.
The bipartisan committee was formed at the request of Rep. Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood, who is also its chairwoman, after she witnessed her mother’s addiction struggle. The committee will meet six times this summer to allow lawmakers to analyze the scale of the opioid crisis, identify potential remedies and possibly craft legislation.
According to a 2016 report by the Surgeon General of the United States, nearly 8 percent of Americans meet the criteria for a substance abuse disorder for the use of either alcohol or illicit drugs, Valuck said. The report also said the combined cost of medical treatment, criminal justice intervention and loss of productivity in the workplace for these individuals amount to more than $400 billion annually in the U.S.
Alcoholism is the most common type of substance abuse, Valuck said. Almost 6 percent of the 8 percent of Americans who have a substance abuse disorder are addicted to alcohol.
Use of other types of drugs is increasing, Valuck said. The Surgeon General’s report said 18.9 million people reported misusing opioid-based pain relievers and tranquilizers.
In 2015, 33,091 Americans – 869 from Colorado – died of opioid overdoses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But not every abuse case ends in death, Valuck said.
“For every one of those 33,000 deaths there are 10 treatment admissions for abuse, there are 32 emergency department visits ... there’s 130 people who abuse or are dependent and have diagnosable levels of substance use disorder,” he said.
The Opioid and Other Substance Use Disorders Interim Study Committee will meet again Aug. 1.