Battling the opioid abuse crisis in Colorado

Robert Valuck at Naloxone event at the state capitol

The Colorado Consortium for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention has a simple but important message for all Coloradans: Bring naloxone home.

The message is straightforward, but it packs an important punch. In Colorado in 2018, an opioid overdose occurred every 16 hours – many of which could have been prevented by administering naloxone, an easy-to-use medication available without a prescription to anyone at most pharmacies across the state.

State leaders recognize the scope of the crisis and the importance of naloxone. Gov. Jared Polis has declared August to be Colorado Naloxone Awareness Month. The proclamation recognizes that “prescription opioid misuse and abuse is a public health crisis in Colorado, with long-term health consequences, including addiction, overdose, and death, and has a profound impact on Colorado families and communities.”

The governor’s proclamation emphasizes that Coloradans should learn about and obtain naloxone. So does U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams, who recommends that any person exposed to opioids either through prescriptions, illicit drug use or via a friend or loved one using the drugs should know how to use naloxone and keep it within reach.

Ending opioid overdose deaths is an urgent issue in Colorado – in 2018, 543 people died from overdoses that involved prescription opioids such as oxycodone and hydrocodone or illegally obtained opioids such as heroin and fentanyl.

“We’re following the Surgeon General’s lead by encouraging Coloradans to understand how important it is to know what naloxone is, how to use it, how to purchase it, and to keep it in your home, car or on your person so it’s available when needed,” said Robert Valuck, PhD, RPh, executive director of the Colorado Consortium for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention and a professor at the University of Colorado Skaggs School of Pharmacy. “The bottom line is: If you have opioids in your home, you should also have naloxone. If someone you know or love is taking opioids, be sure to tell them about naloxone.”

When administered at the moment of an opioid overdose, naloxone blocks opioid receptors in the body, effectively reversing the impact of the overdose and saving the person’s life – thereby allowing time to call 911 to receive medical assistance. Available as a nasal spray or injectable, naloxone is portable, affordable and easy to administer. Although naloxone (also known by the brand names Narcan and Evzio) requires a prescription, a standing order issued by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment allows any Colorado resident to purchase the drug at a pharmacy simply by requesting it. Naloxone has been used to reverse more than 1,122 opioid overdoses in Colorado since mid-2017.

A common misconception is that opioid overdoses only impact people who use heroin or others using illicit drugs. However, many people are prescribed opioids by their doctors to manage pain, which can cause accidental overdoses if used incorrectly or mixed with other medications or alcohol. People might be at risk even if they have a prescription and might only be taking opioids for a few days – which is why it’s critical for consumers to purchase naloxone and know how to use it.

“The opioid epidemic is a public health crisis for Colorado. We’ve lost far too many of our fellow citizens,” Sen. Brittany Pettersen and Rep. Chris Kennedy, the chair and vice-chair of the General Assembly’s Opioid and Other Substance Use Disorders Interim Study Committee, said in a joint statement. “Many overdose deaths occur at home by people who might not realize they’re at risk, and naloxone could have saved their lives. People should know if they or a loved one take an opioid medication, they should have naloxone, just to stay safe.”

Throughout the summer and fall, the Colorado Consortium for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention is running paid advertisements throughout Colorado with the “Bring Naloxone Home” message, encouraging residents to visit their pharmacy, ask about naloxone and purchase it. In addition, many of the Consortium’s partners across the state will be holding events throughout the month to generate awareness of the issue in communities across all regions of Colorado.

“We’ve recently experienced a slight decrease in drug overdoses in Colorado, which is an encouraging sign,” said Valuck. “However, we still lost 543 people to opioid overdoses in 2018, which is a significant number of people to lose to something that is so preventable. Our goal is to continue that downward trend by getting naloxone into the hands and homes of as many Coloradans as possible.”

For more information, including a video about how to use naloxone, visit www.bringnaloxonehome.org.

Guest contributor: Michael Davidson, Colorado Consortium for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention.

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