DENVER — A new study this week by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that nearly 1 in 10 adults has lost a family member to drug overdose – an ongoing problem that impacts families in Colorado and across the U.S.
According to the study published Tuesday, three in 10 American adults say they or someone in their family have been addicted to opioids. Andrea Thomas, founder and executive director at Voices for Awareness – a Grand Junction-based nonprofit that promotes awareness of counterfeit drugs and fentanyl – said it's a nationwide public health crisis.
The fight against fentanyl and overdose deaths is personal for Thomas.
"In 2018, I lost my daughter Ashley Romero to a counterfeit pill made with fentanyl," Thomas said. "I didn't know what fentanyl was in 2018. I hadn't heard of it. My daughter hadn't either, that I'm aware of. It looked like her prescription medication, so there would be no alarm or red flag."
Thomas isn't alone. Last year, nearly 110,000 people died of an overdose, more than any other calendar year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"It doesn't surprise me, of course it concerns me," Thomas said. "We talk about numbers, but we have to remember that these numbers are mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers. These are people."
In Colorado, the state reports 1,160 people died from an opioid overdose in 2022, and 920 of those deaths involved fentanyl. Last year In Denver, 453 people died of an overdose, and more than half of those deaths were the result of fentanyl.
Already, 288 overdose deaths have been reported in Colorado in 2023, with 187 of those deaths from fentanyl.
After losing her daughter, Thomas started Voices for Awareness to spread word about the dangers of counterfeit drugs and fentanyl, but she said more work is needed.
“We need to take out all the ammo here," she said. "We need all hands on deck – everyone should be concerned about this issue."
Better education, resources and funding for prevention will be key to curbing the crisis and bringing down overdose deaths, she said.
"Ashley was the oldest of four children that I have, and I have three grandchildren," Thomas said. "If this could happen to our family that was very open and honest about drug use and alcohol and drugs, this could happen to anyone."
Over the years, Thomas said, her organization has grown nationwide, establishing a project called Facing Fentanyl. On Aug. 21, for National Fentanyl Prevention Awareness Day, her coalition will come together with families who have lost loved ones to fentanyl as they work to spread education on this issue nationwide.
“My team, our home team will be in Times Square on August 21, sharing our message on the busiest street corner in America, having our messaging and our angels above us on those big, huge billboards that are out there," Thomas said. "We just need people to know about the dangers of illicit fentanyl and to not take anything not prescribed to you or purchased in a legitimate pharmacy – it could be the last thing, it could be life or death.”
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