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The Opioid Epidemic in Denver: What do we do about it? - Denver Metro Media

City Council, December 2017: The opioid epidemic in Denver—what do we do about it?

by Albus Brooks

 

Albus Brooks

 

In 2016, there were over 60,000 overdose (OD) deaths in the United States related to opioids. This surpasses more deaths than those Americans killed in Vietnam. This is a public health emergency and we as Americans should be appalled and alarmed. In Denver, we lost 174 individuals to OD deaths, that is more than triple the murders and vehicular deaths in our city for 2016. As the President of Denver City Council, I am outraged and believe we must act now to help save the lives of Denver residents struggling with this addiction. I am working with the Mayor’s Administration on an Opioid Task Force to help coordinate resources for a collective impact for our City.

This issue hits close to home for me. When I was in the hospital last year to remove a 15 pound cancerous tumor, I was in a lot of pain. So, my doctors gave me a prescription for Oxycodone, which I was on for a month. I grew dependent on the drug and experienced withdrawals when I cut myself off. If it was not for my family and friends, I could very easily have become addicted. This issue is real and I hope by sharing my story it will help to destigmatize addiction.

In Denver, we lost 174 individuals to OD deaths, that is more than triple the murders and vehicular deaths in our city for 2016.

Denver needs an Opioid strategy to deal with this epidemic effectively. My District 9 team, along with our City attorney, traveled to Vancouver last week to review the various ways they are addressing this crisis with progressive and pragmatic approaches. We learned about the pillars they use to help guide their work. The four pillars include: Prevention, Enforcement, Treatment and Harm Reduction. In their explanation, they talked about the need to integrate the four pillars and fund them at a sustainable level for the crisis to be curbed. There is a fifth pillar that also needs to be addressed, which is housing. Vancouver is experiencing gentrification and displacement like Denver, so the need for affordable housing is a big issue.

Below are some highlights to the innovative strategies for each pillar.

Prevention

We want to prevent people from taking drugs in the first place and as we have learned, abstinence-only education is not effective. People struggling with childhood trauma and childhood inequalities are more likely to use drugs. By providing more early childhood intervention such as pre-K programs, child support services and literacy intervention we can prevent more adults from using drugs.

Enforcement 

In the '80s and '90s, we did the WAR ON DRUGS and arrested over one million African-Americans in the inner cities due to the crack epidemic, which proved to be a total failure. Last week, we met with Adam Palmer, Vancouver’s Chief of Police and his strategy is to go after the suppliers who are bringing drugs into the country and not the users who are being exploited.

Treatment 

We have many barriers to treatment in America due to our healthcare system. In Vancouver, they are experimenting with a program called Treatment on Demand, which allows people to receive treatment immediately if they want to get clean.

Harm Reduction

This pillar is probably the least understood by most people, but it is critical and has data that shows its effectiveness. An example of harm reduction would be needle exchange programs. These programs give people who inject drugs clean needles to help stop the spread of diseases like HIV. In Vancouver they have a safe/supervised injection site/facility called Insite. They have injection booths where people can inject the drugs they bring in under medical supervision in case of an accidental overdose. Insite also provides clean injection supplies. Nurses can also provide other health care services if requested. There are 150 sites all over the world and there has not been one OD death. Safe, supervised injection sites/facilities save lives and cut down on the spread of diseases.

We will begin to explore these strategies as a City to address this crisis. We can no longer stand idly by as hundreds die each year, we must act now. If you want to hear more about this subject, I am hosting a public meeting along with Representative Leslie Herod and other medical professionals on Thursday, Nov. 30 at Mile High United Way (711 Park Ave.) from 5:30p.m. to 7:00p.m.

Please email me at Albus.Brooks@denvergov.org with your thoughts.