DENVER - Colorado is part of a nationwide opioid epidemic with nearly 500 opioid or heroin deaths in 2014, up from 115 in 1999. One of the biggest problems in addressing the issue, a lack of available resources to provide treatment.
“We estimate that 20 to 25 million Americans need that treatment today. We have enough to treat a tenth of them. Maybe twenty percent of them,” said Dr. Robert Valuck, professor at the CU Skaggs School of Pharmacy who works with a large team of experts in the state to combat the opioid epidemic.
He's talking about an 80 to 90 percent treatment gap in our country, amidst an unprecedented epidemic.
“We need capacity for treatment. Whether that's some facility, bricks and mortar, or incentives to have providers get paid appropriately to provide this treatment, and create those programs so people can actually provide it,” said Valuck.
People like Maria Small of Wheat Ridge, addicted to heroin, want treatment. She’s currently living at her sister’s house after the van she lives out of and gets high in all day broke down. She’s struggling to get clean.
‘Yeah I hit a low. I have nowhere to live. And I have nothing to give an addiction but my life. I don't want to give it my life,” she said, crying just a morning after letting four days of sobriety go.
She’s been calling drug addiction hotline numbers on TV. She says she’s talked with people on the other end but has yet to receive a referral to treatment. She wants to get clean for her three kids and because she fears overdosing.
“Every time I stick that needle in my arm I shake. You know, I shake because I don't know if this is going to be the one that does me in, or is this going to be the one that makes me feel so good that I am so happy and I could do anything,” Small said.
The solution, many say, is funding to decrease waiting times and increase training.
“I am the state's largest syringe access provider. I can't get people into treatment today,” said Lisa Raville who runs the Harm Reduction Action Center where users can go exchange needles and access naloxone, an overdose reversing drug that's saved many lives in recent years. That's the patch. The hole, a two to four week waiting period for inpatient treatment in Denver alone and lack of access to Suboxone, a drug to treat opioid addiction.
“Accessing Suboxone in our community is almost a story of hope. Of the prescribers that can prescribe in the state, less than 50 percent do so, less than ten percent take Medicaid so I can maybe get someone on a waiting list for about 3 to 5 weeks,” said Raville.
When someone who is addicted is ready for treatment, they are ready today. But getting treatment right away is nearly impossible.
“I don't want that for my life. I don't want my family looking over at me and being, oh well, she's just another statistic. Or, oh she just fell into the cracks of heroin. I don't want my mom to bury me like that. I don't want my kids to remember me like that. I want them to know I gave it all I got to stay sober,” said Small.
Full interview: Maria Small