RX Task Force back with three-part series to address opioid epidemic
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — More than 50 people crowded into Library Hall at the Bud Werner Memorial Library at noon Wednesday to listen and learn about the problem of opioid addiction — an epidemic that last year claimed 140 lives a day.
Mara Rhodes, regional coordinator for the RX Task Force based in Steamboat Springs, was happy with the turnout but is hoping that she will have a more diverse crowd for the next two sessions of the lunch and learn series — “Making and Mapping Pain” on Oct. 11 and “Treating Our Pain” on Oct. 18.
“There were a lot of really important community members here, and I think that is a testament to how much people care about the issue,” Rhodes said. “But I’m bummed that there were not more young adults, there were not more moms and dads and people I feel should really consider learning more about this.”
But Rhodes also understands that some people in that age group cannot find the time to attend and others are uncomfortable with the subject matter.
“I had a friend tell me that she really wished that she could support me today in this work, but this topic is just not really her thing — and I get that,” Rhodes told the crowd. “It’s really not my thing either. But it’s not something that I take lightly, it’s something that is very personal and it’s very hard to talk about on a regular basis.
“It’s my thing now,” Rhodes explained. “I am really happy that I have the opportunity to share it with the people in this room right now.”
She said it is a topic that became her reality after her younger brother, Mark, died three years ago from an unintentional opiate overdose at the age of 33 struggled with a 10-year addiction to prescription pain medication, then heroin.
That’s why she is leading community forums, like the one Wednesday, to bring attention to the problem.
Wednesday’s event featured speakers Jessica Eaddy from the Colorado Consortium for RX Drug Abuse Prevention, and Wes Hunter, UC Health Yampa Valley Medical Center’s director of pharmacy.
“In Colorado there is a website called stoptheclockcolorado.org that reports we have a fatal drug overdose every 9 hours, 36 minutes … this problem is not limited to a specific race, or socioeconomic status or a lower educational level,” Eaddy said. “It really impacts everybody equally. The CDC calls it one of core epidemics in the United States.”
The Colorado Consortium for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention was created in the fall of 2013 to establish a coordinated, statewide response to the abuse and misuse of prescription drugs in the State of Colorado through improvements in education, public outreach, research, safe disposal and treatment.
Hunter spoke about the Colorado Opioid Safety Program, a six-month pilot program that aimed to cut the use of opioids and that YVMC participated in.
“We are trying to decrease the patient’s exposure to opioids,” Hunter said. ”Every time anyone uses an opioid there is a chance that someone could extend that use to abuse.”
As part of the pilot program, the YVMC emergency room explored several options to replaced opioids with alternative pain relief using a number of different medications that are less addictive than opioids. Studies show that one in seven patients who get a five-day prescription for opioids will remain on that drug for a year.
Opioid prescriptions in the U.S., according to Hunter, have quadrupled from 1999 to 2010, and the U.S. uses 80 percent of the opioids that are prescribed in the world.
In its first three months, the emergency room in Steamboat reduced opioid prescriptions by 40 percent. Hunter said the numbers have trended up, but it’s still well ahead of the goal of reducing opioid prescriptions by 15 percent.
“The docs really like this program because it allows them to treat the patient, and to treat the pain and not create more problems,” Hunter said.
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