Ending an epidemic: Steamboat seminar discusses developments in addiction treatment
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The Substance Use Prevention and Recovery seminar, held at Colorado Mountain College Steamboat Springs, began Friday with a presentation from Ken Davis, the assistant medical director at the Foundry Treatment Center.
During his discussion on the nationwide opioid crisis, which claims an average of 130 lives every day, Davis asked the crowd of about 100 medical professionals and community members if they knew someone who had died from an overdose.
Almost everyone in the auditorium raised their hand.
Admittedly, a group of people attending a seminar on new developments in addiction treatment may be a biased sample group, but a 2018 national poll from the American Psychiatric Association found that one in three people know someone addicted to opioids.
Overdose rates, not just from opioids but drugs in general, have been on the rise in recent years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with more than 70,000 overdose deaths recorded in 2017, an all-time high. In the 8-hour span of the conference on Friday, Davis said 58 people in the U.S. would die from an overdose.
“That’s concerning to me, and I would hope it would be concerning to you,” he said to the crowd, eliciting a solemn nodding of heads.
A wave of new technologies has been developed in recent years to combat the growing epidemic. As Davis said, a major aim of the seminar is to share those developments and discuss how to increase access to treatment options.
“One of the things around addiction is the stigma,” Davis said. “The more we talk about it, the more can try to find solutions.”
Routt County has been the site of one such solution. It was one of two counties to implement a medication-assisted pilot treatment program, which helps patients manage withdrawal symptoms as a way to stay sober.
Road to Recovery has been the only provider in Steamboat to offer a comprehensive regimen of those medications alongside therapy sessions. Nancy Beste, the executive director of the addiction treatment organization, has taken in more than 90 patients since starting the program last year.
She has seen unprecedented success with the medications.
Many of her patients — about 90% — have stayed in treatment, a vast improvement compared to retention rates recorded for other treatment options.
One of her first patients, Steamboat resident Joshua Zamora, discussed his experience with the medication-assisted treatment program during a presentation on Friday.
Like many opioid addicts, he became dependent on painkillers his doctors prescribed to help him manage pain from injuries he suffered during construction work.
He had been in and out of treatment programs for years, would stay sober for a period of time, but inevitably revert back to using. Eventually, Zamora realized an ultimatum awaited him: either he would get clean for good, or his addiction would kill him.
“I needed to change,” he said.
It was around that time he learned of Road to Recovery and the new medication-assisted treatment. He enrolled in the program and, for the first time, found a solution that kept him sober.
“It saved my life,” he said of the program.
Other medications have entered the market in recent years, designed to help opioid-specific addicts.
In a separate presentation, Steamboat Springs Police Chief Cory Christensen showed body camera footage from one of his officers who saved a man’s life in 2017, using naloxone to treat him after an opioid overdose.
Naloxone has made headlines for its fast-acting cure for victims of opioid overdoses, sometimes reviving people after their hearts have stopped when paired with CPR.
According to Christensen, his officers have used Narcan, a brand-name, nasal-spray version of naloxone, 20 times since 2017. Eight lives have been saved in Steamboat with the opioid antidote. Efforts at the national and state level have been made to increase access to naloxone, along with medication-assisted addiction treatments.
In May, Gov. Jared Polis signed a bill expanding Routt County’s pilot program to 10 other counties in the state and allocating $5 million annually to help with program and medication costs.
Solutions like these are what Christensen and others at the conference see as the path toward ending the opioid crisis and other drug-related issues.
In the Police Chief’s words, “We can’t arrest our way out of this problem.”
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