Lifesaving medication for opioid overdoses ‘as important as knowing CPR’
HAYDEN — Over the past five years in Routt County, 20 people have died from drug overdoses of all types. State records show 12 of those deaths were due to an opioid overdose, in the form of prescriptions or heroin.
Overdose deaths in Colorado have more than quadrupled in the past two decades, from 351 in 2000 to 1,477 last year, according to Colorado Drug Overdose Dashboard.
Agencies across the Yampa Valley are working to combat, educate about and reduce prescription and nonprescription drug misuse and abuse that remains a major public health issue.
Some 20 representatives from agencies across the Yampa Valley gathered last week in Hayden for a training, where participants learned how to use lifesaving medications to reverse opioid overdoses, particularly naloxone, more commonly known by its brand name Narcan.
Community and family members concerned about someone at risk of a heroin or painkiller overdose can pick up naloxone at local pharmacies with no prescription for a cost. The rescue medication is also available free through Recovery Support Services at nonprofit The Health Partnership in Routt and Moffat counties.
Good Samaritan laws in Colorado allow anyone to obtain and administer naloxone.
Workshop trainer Lindsey Simbeye said the reversal drug can be as important as learning CPR, and even if the situation is not 100% certain to be a drug overdose, naloxone is not damaging.
“I’ve seen it work in person, and I’ve seen it save lives,” said Erik Plate, recovery team supervisor at The Health Partnership.
Opioids, or drugs derived from opium, can cause death by depressing the respiratory system. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an opioid is natural, synthetic or semi-synthetic chemicals that interacts with opioid receptors on nerve cells in the body and brain, and reduces the intensity of pain signals.
Opioids include the illegal drug heroin, as well as synthetic prescriptions, such as fentanyl, and other pain medications like oxycodone, hydrocodone and codeine.
The CDC notes prescription opioids are generally safe when taken for a short time and as directed by a doctor, but because they produce euphoria in addition to pain relief, they can be misused and have addiction potential.
Simbeye said those with a very high risk for overdose include drug users who have recently been discharged from a jail, hospital or substance treatment center and might go back to taking the same level of opioids after having no access to the drugs.
The general population should be aware of opioid overdose warning signs, according to Simbeye, which include some combination of pinpoint pupils, shallow or slow breathing with a “death rattle,” cool and clammy skin usually ashen or pale in color, lips and nails turning blue, unable to speak, loss of consciousness, limp body and slow heartrate or low blood pressure.
Simbeye said she would love to see drug overdose medication located next to every defibrillation and fire extinguisher station in schools and buildings across Colorado. While the specifically abused substances may change through the years, the drug abuse crisis and human reasons for misusing drugs will remain.
“The crisis is always there, the substance just changes,” Plate explained.
Simbeye, who previously served as director of local nonprofit Grand Futures Prevention Coalition, works regionally as an external relations strategist for the Colorado Consortium for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention, which is supported by the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus.
Since several individuals at the training dealt with substance abuse issues in the past and now work professionally in the field of recovery, Simbeye encouraged people to continue to be educated and candid about drug abuse.
“The more you can share your story, the less people have to die,” she said.
Drug overdose information resources
Naloxone rescue medication is available for free through the Recovery Support Services program at The Health Partnership located at 2720 Lincoln Ave. on the west side of Steamboat Springs or call or email Recovery Team Supervisor Erik Plate at 970-875-3630 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
BringNaloxoneHome.org: Most opioid overdoses happen at home.
TakeMedsSeriously.org: The abuse of prescription medicine is the fastest growing drug problem in the U.S., particularly among teens. Nearly 224,000 Coloradans misuse prescription drugs each year.
LiftTheLabel.org: A public awareness campaign that strives to remove damaging labels and stigma that prevent people with opioid addiction from seeking effective treatment. All of the individuals featured are Coloradans sharing their personal stories.
OpiRescue.com: Provides a free overdose support tool, including an app for cell phones.
CoRXConsortium.org: The Colorado Consortium for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention coordinates Colorado’s response to the misuse of medications such as opioids, stimulants and sedatives.
To reach Suzie Romig, call 970-871-4205 or email sromig@SteamboatPilot.com.
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