The Durango Herald article “16 million pain pills: Southwest Colorado works to reverse epidemic” (Aug. 11) caught my attention.
I have been working in this community doing opioid-specific education, Naloxone trainings and general substance use prevention for the past year as an AmeriCorps member. Normally, I would have been encouraged by the Herald’s interest in health issues impacting our community. But I was dismayed by the outdated and misleading information and by the cherry-picking of facts.
The data used was from 13 years ago; 2006 saw a much different La Plata County than the one I work with each day.
By citing these 2006 statistics, the Herald is creating the negative mis-perception that opioids are still a huge problem in our community. In fact, it is quite the opposite.
Though our county has all the risk factors for a population with opioid misuse and abuse – rural area, challenges with access to health services, lack of mental health and addiction services, high chronic pain population, high prevalence of Medicaid and Medicare patients – we are actually doing well in La Plata County, particularly when we compare local prescription data to the rest of the state.
In 2017, La Plata County was ranked in the lowest quintile out of all Colorado counties for prescription opioid-related overdose death rates. In a span of four years, there have been seven opioid-related overdose deaths in the county.
The article referenced 351 “residents” who had overdosed, possible confusing readers who might assume those are local deaths.
There are 11 counties in Colorado that have concerningly high opioid prescription rates, but La Plata or Montezuma are not one of them. So it seems misleading to me to frame La Plata and Montezuma counties as having “16 million pain pills”; older data is not providing the public with an accurate picture of our community with this arbitrary number of pills without context.
Even if we look at the statewide data, Colorado is making bounds and leaps; in 2016, the CDC ranked the state in the lowest quartile (the least use) nationally for opioid prescriptions dispensed.
I would hate for those who read the Herald article to come away with the mis-perception that opioids are a flagrant issue in this community.
The majority of La Plata County doctors have taken the appropriate steps to educate themselves on the CDC’s opioid prescription protocols, many local organizations have participated in annual Drug Take Back Days, Naloxone trainings have been offered and well-received, and our community-based coalition for substance use prevention has engaged people across every economic sector in La Plata County.
I’ve seen first-hand the grassroots efforts and fierce work ethic to educate and improve our community, so we would be remiss if we only were to focus on the negative, outdated data that does not capture how well our county is doing.
I am incredibly proud of this community’s prevention efforts, and I hope everyone else is as well.
If you are interested in learning more about our community’s prevention efforts, or how to respond to an opioid overdose, there is an Overdose Awareness Day event happening on Sept. 7th from 1-3 p.m. at Buckley Park, hosted by the Front Range Clinic. There will be a Naloxone training, a community art project, resource booths and a speaker.
Della Turque is an AmeriCorps member with the Community Opioid Response Program. She lives in Durango.