Mara Rhodes named RX Task Force regional coordinator
August 14, 2017
There is no question Steamboat Springs resident Mara Rhodes is a perfect fit as the new regional coordinator for the RX Task Force.
Rhodes has been involved with the task force from its inception and is expected to play an important role as the group moves forward with its mission to raise awareness and find solutions to the issues surrounding opiates.
"This person was hired to help continue to organize events and to raise awareness," said Ken Davis, of the Northwest Colorado Community Health Partnership.
The group deals with everything from prescription pain medication to heroin and is dedicated to ensuring those issues rise to the surface in cities and towns across Northern Colorado, including Steamboat.
Davis said a grant from the Colorado Health Foundation will be used to pay for the new part-time regional coordinator position for the next two years. It will also pay for a behavioral health coordinator, a position that will be filled by Sarah Valentino.
In addition to her responsibilities with the RX Task Force, Rhodes will continue to work at Soda Creek Construction and Design, a business she owns with her husband. She and her husband also have three young children.
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In Rhodes' case, her experiences give her a unique and personal perspective on the issues surrounding the opiate crisis. The past several years, her drive has been fueled by her younger brother, Mark, who struggled with a 10-year addiction to prescription pain medication, then heroin. He died from an unintentional opiate overdose at the age of 33, inspiring Rhodes to share her story and remain active in the pursuit of solutions.
Due to her experience, she understands that opiate addiction impacts not only those who are consumed by it, but also their families.
Her ultimate goal is to help other families escape the desperation and pain she knows all too well and to battle the opiate crisis the only way she knows — through education, awareness and understanding. She said having Davis and the board of the RX Task Force approve her for a paid position reinforces her dedication.
"It has nothing to do with the money," Rhodes said. "If the board approved this position — a board filled with a lot of really important people, they think it is important. Now, they can hold me accountable, and I will need to get things done rather than let my busy life get in the way. Now, I will have to make it more of a priority."
The job is nothing new for Rhodes, who has been unofficially filling the position for several years. However, she believes being paid for her efforts will push her to make her ideas a reality.
Since its founding in 2015, the group has built a long list of accomplishments, not the least of which was making the group a reality.
"I was blown away by all the response we got," Rhodes said. "Right away, we had Frank May from the Yampa Valley Medical Center, Brad Meeks from the school system, as well as the police and sheriff's departments, who jumped right in. We had tons of support and donations from organizations like Rotary — I just think that it seemed like it (the opiate epidemic) was on peoples' radar more than I thought it was.
“To have Ken (Davis) help me put it together was just an opportunity to have people jump on board,” Rhodes continued. “They were saying we want to do something about this, but we just didn't have a way."
Ironically, it was that same feeling that got Rhodes involved.
"I wanted to find a group in town that was doing something about it," she said. "So, I looked for them, and then, I realized there wasn't a group. That's why this sort of came together."
Rhodes said she was also proud when Yampa Valley Medical Center announced it would take part in a pilot program — along with seven other hospitals in Colorado — to limit the use of opiates in the emergency room. The goal of the Colorado Opioid Safety Program is to reduce the use of opioids by at least 15 percent.
While the hospital made the choice to be a part of the pilot program, Rhodes believes groups such as the RX Task Force are helping influence decisions and raise awareness in their communities.
"It’s a big deal for the hospital to get on board, along with seven other hospitals in the state, who are taking part in a pilot program," Rhodes said. "It says we want to reduce emergency room prescriptions, and that's prevention."
She applauded the hospital's efforts, saying the emergency room is one of the first places those addicted to prescription pain pills turn.
"I think the hospital has taken a huge leap by simply saying we are just going to try to cut the use of opiates. The less that we put out in the market, the less that will get diverted, and the less that will get used," Rhodes said. "They (opiates) cause so many interruptions, both mentally and physically, even to a person who doesn't get addicted. I think the risk far outweighs the benefits. Less prescribing is good."
Rhodes said she looks forward to continuing RX Task Force's mission, and Davis said the group is already reaching out to similar organizations in Moffat and Grand countries, hoping to help those groups and, where possible, to join forces in the battle against opiate use and addiction.
Rhodes said her desire is to focus more on the front end, with hopes of helping people before they become addicts.
"I think, nationally, we are attacking this issue from the wrong side," Rhodes said. "I'm not saying treatment isn't worth talking about, and resources for people who go to treatment isn't worth talking about. I think those things are 100-percent worth talking about. But, I think we could really benefit by talking about how to prevent people from having to go to treatment in the first place. Getting somebody treated for opiate abuse disorder is extremely difficult, and while it can be successful, that is not always the case."
Rhodes knows this from dealing with her brother's condition and finally reaching the conclusion that, like so many other diseases, in the end, her brother just didn't have a choice. The addiction was simply too much.
She said it's impossible to know who will and will not become an addict, adding that the best approach is to look for alternatives rather than taking a chance.