$150K grant will fuel opioid prevention efforts across Northwest Colorado
September 9, 2018
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — For the next three years, Grand Futures Prevention Coalition will receive $50,000 annually in federal funding to prevent opioid use among young people in Routt, Moffat, and Grand counties.
The nonprofit is the only organization in Colorado to receive the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act grant.
Andy Wiener, chairman of the Grand Futures board, lost his youngest son Justin to a heroin overdose 10 years ago.
Today, Wiener wants to do what he can to make sure it doesn't happen to other families.
Justin, who was 19 when he died, started experimenting with prescription opioids out of the medicine cabinet before turning to heroin, which he found more readily available.
But he had been to rehab and was working hard to kick the habit.
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Justin's greatest love was music, Wiener said. That, and snowboarding. He was a very talented songwriter and guitar player, and Justin's music teacher told Wiener that his son was the most talented student they had seen.
But then, Justin relapsed and took a dose that was normal for when he was using regularly but was more than his body could handle since he was in recovery.
Justin's is a story told too often across the nation.
In 2017, the Centers for Disease Control estimated drug overdoses killed about 72,000 Americans, a record number that represented a 10 percent increase over the previous year. The death toll from overdoses surpassed car crashes and gun deaths.
According to the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, while the Hayden and South Routt school districts saw a small decrease in the use of prescription drugs by students without a prescription from 2015 to 2017, Steamboat saw a slight 1 percent increase. Steamboat Springs also saw a 1 percent increase in the number of kids who reported using heroin.
There are far too many stories, said Grand Futures Executive Director Lindsey Simbeye, about people who become addicted to heroin after trying other peoples' prescription drugs or being prescribed drugs themselves as teenagers.
"As parents, coaches and healthcare providers, we must continue educating ourselves about our nation's prescription drug crisis," said Mara Rhodes in a news release.
Rhodes, whose brother died from an overdose, is the community prevention coordinator for The Health Partnership and co-founder of the Rx Task Force.
"Pediatric research continues to show direct correlations between children and young adults prescribed opioids for wisdom teeth extraction, broken bones or a surgery, with their rates of substance use disorders into adulthood," Rhodes said.
The developing brain (younger than 25), said Simbeye, is much more susceptible to addiction. While there are legitimate uses for opioid prescriptions, she noted, people of all ages need to be more educated on how to have conversations with their doctors and be able to ask questions like, "Is this necessary? How long do I need to take pills? How quickly can I get off them, and are there other alternatives I could explore?"
Wiener's primary message for young people comes from what Justin would hear other people in rehab say, "I'm OK to do it every once in a while."
No, said Wiener, you’re not.
"You can't ever do it. Ever,” Wiener said. “Opioids, whether illegal or legal, are not something you can just experiment with or try out. They are so addictive and really hard to get off."
For parents and adults in the community, Wiener wants them to be very aware of everything in their medicine cabinet and lock up anything accessible to kids or get rid of leftover medication when not needed.
It's best to take it to the Routt County Sheriff's Office, Wiener said, as it isn't good to flush drugs into the water system.
For the organization that survives primarily on grants, Wiener said the federal funding Grand Futures will be receiving during the next three years will help with more programming to educate young people, doctors and adults.
Simbeye said the grant spending will focus on community education and engagement, de-stigmatization and getting young people the information they need to be aware of the risks of opioid use and the resources and tools they need to make healthy choices and develop resilience and coping skills to avoid turning to drugs and alcohol.
Grand Futures will hold a youth summit, youth advocacy programs, community events and educational opportunities for adults and partner with schools on curriculum. They also plan to create additional safe prescription drug disposal sites and an online resource library and develop educational material for physicians and pharmacies to share with patents.
It's a big job, Simbeye said, and it requires a group effort from everyone in the community to genuinely affect change.