Heroin and opioid related deaths have skyrocketed in the last 15 years. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment recorded 115 deaths in 1999 and 489 in 2014. Some experts say they’re seeing younger patients in Colorado treatment centers.
“We do see a number of applicants in that 16 to 21-year-old range. And again that is because they have access either through their parents medicine cabinet, their friends parents medicine cabinet,” said Paul Scudo, Director of Programs for Step13, a men’s recovery center in Denver.
Heroin addiction often starts with painkillers.
“80 percent of people who use heroin have reported misusing an opioid painkiller in the past,” said Ryan Mueller, Substance Program Supervisor at Denver Health. When prescriptions run out, or money runs low, addicts turn to heroin, a cheaper alternative.
“It becomes more important to them than close relationships, than eating food, than sexual activity, sleeping, [and] financial independence. Those things are sacrificed to maintain the addiction,” said Mueller.
9NEWS cameras captured many young people shooting heroin along the Cherry Creek bike trail on Tuesday as joggers and cyclists went by. They seemed not to care about the cameras, or about anybody seeing them use in broad daylight. But Mueller and Scudo agree with the Denver Police Department, arrests won’t solve the problem.
“Those of us suffering from the disease of addiction have a very high tolerance for pain and abuse,” said Scudo. “I can lose friends, I can lose family members, I can go to jail, I can lose jobs, I can lose money, I can go to the hospital over and over again but the cycle of addiction precludes me from breaking out of that cycle.”
In fact, heroin addicts are most vulnerable right after leaving jail, when their tolerances are low, but they seek out the same amount of heroin they’re accustomed too. And that can cause a fatal overdose. Heroin suppresses breathing, sometimes so much so it causes death.
The answer, Mueller says, is for the police department, community agencies and treatment agencies to work together to get more people into treatment. That’s proving to be easier said than done, given the nature of an addict.
“The people who seek help have had experiences or outcomes that were so negative that they are unable to lie to themselves, their family, society at large and they generally have this psychic shift in that ‘I can’t take this pain any longer,’” said Scudo.