KUSA- An average of 300 people die every year in Colorado from overdosing on opioid painkillers. Now, a renewed effort is underway to try and stem that drug abuse across the country.
On Friday, President Obama proclaimed Sept. 18-24 as “Prescription Opioid and Heroin Epidemic Awareness Week.”
Also today, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch told USA Today that she will direct U.S. Attorneys offices around the country next week to share information across state lines about opioid distribution networks and doctors who may be overprescribing those drugs.
Opioid overdoses are claiming the life of one American every 19 minutes. It’s a staggering number documented by the Center for Disease Control and drawing attention to Colorado’s own struggle to deal with those who are addicted.
“Heroin abuse in Colorado has worsened to the point that the Drug Enforcement Administration has made heroin focus the main focus in Colorado,” said Rep. Diana DeGette, Colorado- D.
At the Stout Street Clinic in Denver, those on the front lines of trying to stop the spread of opioid abuse spoke about their efforts in Colorado. The state ranks second in the nation when it comes to overall prescription drug abuse.
“There’s a perception that because these are prescribed by a doctor they are safer than street drugs,” said Kent MacLennan, executive director of Rise Above Colorado, which aims to prevent drug abuse, specifically among young people. “As a result, you have this misperception that because they are created in a sterile lab and they’re prescribed by a doctor that there is some level of safety that’s there.”
Earlier this year, Congress passed the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, which was signed into law, but not fully funded, according to Rep. DeGette.
“The funding mechanisms were woefully low in that bill,” she said.
Drug abuse prevention groups said more money is needed to educate the public about opioid abuse, as well as provide more treatment options. Even so, they admit it can be a tough battle.
“The challenge, of course, is getting people into treatment and getting people to a place where they say ‘it’s time to change my life,’” said Dr. Elizabeth Cookson, Director of Psychology at Colorado Coalition for the Homeless.
There are currently several proposed bills in Congress to deal with the opioid epidemic. The Heroin and Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention and Reduction Act would make $500 million available to combat the opioid crisis. The Comprehensive Behavioral Health Reform and Recovery Act would include specific provisions for substance abuse programs.
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