In the state of Colorado, the opioid-related death rate is double the rate of deaths in motor vehicle crashes.
This was just one of the sobering statistics given Wednesday at Durango High School during a Southwestern Colorado Area Health Education Center event on prescription drug abuse in La Plata County.
Within La Plata County, there have been 13 suicides in the last 12 months, and more than half of them were drug overdoses, Chief Deputy Coroner Larry Phelps said. Three involved fentanyl, an extremely strong anesthesia.
“La Plata County has the highest suicide rate in the state right now,” he said.
Nearly three-quarters of all people try opioid prescription drugs, such as OxyContin and codeine, for the first time without a prescription, straight out of a medicine cabinet, said Robert Valuck, director of the Colorado Consortium for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention.
This can lead to heroin addictions as people seek greater highs, he said.
To combat the problem, Colorado is going to receive a $1 million grant annually for five years from the federal government, Valuck said.
It will help pay for safe prescription drug disposal sites in every county, and he expects those will be rolled out in the next month.
The consortium is also working on training doctors, dentists and all those who prescribe pain medications how to do it more safely.
Valuck met with about 35 people from the medical community Tuesday in Durango to talk about how to prescribe opioid painkillers safely and how to treat those people who do become addicted.
Now that awareness about the risk of opioid addiction is greater among doctors, the number of prescriptions they issue has flattened out, he said.
Once people are addicted, medication-assisted treatment, using methadone and suboxone, has proved far more effective, he said.
Joel Smith had been an addict since he was 14 years old, but he had a success recently at Southern Rockies Addiction Treatment Services using medication, he told the group.
He was using prescription medication or heroin, but in the last year, he has recovered. Now, he is doing his best to connect other people to the clinic.
“My life has drastically changed,” he said.