Our View: Join the community conversation | SteamboatToday.com

Our View: Join the community conversation

On Jan. 31, the Steamboat Pilot & Today published an in-depth article on opiate and heroin addiction in Steamboat Springs and Routt County titled "Breaking the silence." The article brought attention to a national crisis that has hit home, and the information provided in the piece is only the beginning of a larger community conversation we think needs to happen now.

We agree with local physician David Wilkinson, who witnesses drug abuse on a daily basis. In his role as E.R. doctor and medical director of The Foundry, Wilkinson said the problems of opiate addiction and drug overdoses aren't going away, and it's time to address the issues as a community before they become even worse.

In the past week, the issue of heroin and opiate overdoses made national headlines again. During the most recent Republican debate in New Hampshire, GOP presidential candidates Chris Christie and Ted Cruz were asked how they would tackle the heroin crisis at the national level.

Cruz said he would work to tighten the southern borders to end the "deluge" of illegal drugs coming into the U.S. from Mexico, and Christie talked about using New Jersey as a model for treating addiction. In New Jersey, first-time drug offenders are not sentenced to prison time but instead enter a mandatory, state-run drug treatment program. One of the state's prisons has been converted into a drug rehab facility, and for the first time in four years, Christie said the number of drug overdose deaths in New Jersey has dropped.

Also making national news this week was a doctor in Southern California, who was sentenced to 30 years to life in prison after being convicted of murder in connection with the overdose deaths of three of her patients. Hsiu-Ying "Lisa" Tseng is the first physician in the United States to face murder charges and prison time for overprescribing prescription opiates.

The latest statistics released by the Colorado Health Institute this month reveal the severity of the problem at the state level. According to the CHI, Colorado's 2014 rate of 16.3 drug-related deaths per 100,000 is higher than the U.S. average of 14.7 drug-related deaths per 100,000. And maybe more alarming, the drug overdose rate increased in each Colorado county except for one in 2014.

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The issue of opiate abuse and its connection to heroin is a multi-faceted problem that involves many sectors of the community — from doctors to law enforcement to mental health providers to youth and families. Steamboat Springs should not hold its breath and wait for the federal or state governments to solve this problem. Instead, we need to get busy at a grassroots level, and the first step involves awareness and making sure local residents are educated about the problem.

Knowledge is power, and a newly created Rx Task Force is determined to make sure community members are educated and equipped with information to begin the bigger "not in our town" discussion.

In March, the task force will be sponsoring Lunch and Learn sessions from noon to 1:30 p.m. on four consecutive Wednesdays at Bud Werner Memorial Library. The effort is supported by a strong cross section of community organizations, including Yampa Valley Medical Center, Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association, Grand Futures Prevention Coalition, Mind Springs Health, REPS, the city of Steamboat Springs, The Foundry, Sk8 Church and Colorado Mountain College.

We are encouraged by this show of broad community support, and we ask local residents to mark their calendars and make plans to attend this important series of informational meetings. We know this issue will not be solved in a month's time through attendance at four educational seminars, but it's a good place to start.

Steamboat is a small but very proactive community that has a history of coming together to find solutions for big problems. In our opinion, any issue that has the power to claim the lives of young people is a problem worth fighting.

Join the conversation by becoming informed, attending the upcoming Lunch and Learn sessions, talking to your children and neighbors about the issue, making sure your medicine cabinets are clear of old prescription opiates such as Oxycontin and Percocet and then looking for opportunities to effect change where you can. This battle is just beginning, and now is the time to get involved.

At issue

Steamboat Springs and Routt County are not immune to the national epidemic of opiate and heroin addiction

Our view

It’s time for a larger community conversation, and we encourage local residents to get informed and get involved

Editorial board

Suzanne Schlicht, publisher and COO

Lisa Schlichtman, editor

Jim Patterson, assistant editor

Tom Ross, reporter

Dennis Fisher, community representative

Ed MacArthur, community representative

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