VAIL — Within the next hour, approximately four people in the United States will die of a drug overdose. Within the next day, approximately 105 people will die. Within the next year, over 38,000 people will die.
And the statistics only get more somber: The rate of drug-induced deaths in Colorado is higher than the national average, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Colorado ranks seventh in the nation for per capita alcohol consumption and is among the top ten for illicit drug use, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, respectively. The Vail Valley is no exception to these dismal rankings.
“Addiction is addiction. We’re not immune to it just because we’re isolated,” said Dr. Jonathan Rosman, an addiction psychiatrist, during an interview last week.
Vail is an international vacation destination, and being a permanent resident in an otherwise transient community is, in and of itself, enough to indefinitely perpetuate a week-long vacation until it becomes a lifestyle.
We’re a community entirely constructed around recreation. However, people often associate drugs and alcohol with having a good time too. And with the recent legalization of marijuana, recreational drug use is becoming an intrinsic part of our identity as a state. The problem with our area in particular is that we have one of the highest addiction rates per capita, and the least resources, according to Judith Landau, a local neuropsychiatrist.
The lifestyle permeating the tourist industry, the high cost of living, lack of affordable healthcare, and resort-based economy are just a few of the things that come with our geographic territory, and a few of the factors limiting our resources to adequately treat addiction.
Local addiction awareness
On March 25, a group of healthcare professionals met at the Edwards Medical Campus to discuss the pervasiveness of addiction in the Vail Valley and the fact that we are not presently equipped with the weaponry needed to assail this grim reality.
The event was part of a monthly clinical conference that was initiated last October by providers at Colorado Mountain Medical who wanted a forum for discussing current topics in medicine. Jona Nykreim, a physician assistant at CMM, proposed the topic of addiction for March.
“The impetus (for this event) was seeing so many patients over the course of the last six months who were coming into our practice struggling with addiction, and providers being faced with the challenge of identifying resources for these patients, and consequently, the challenge of getting them the help that they need,” Nykreim said.
AN EXCHANGE OF IDEAS
Her idea was to gather professionals in the area that work with patients suffering from addiction and abuse, put them in the same room with each other and facilitate an exchange of ideas.
“We all realize that we need a more streamlined system, but the fact is that we don’t have that at this point. We have to do the best we can with the resources we have available, and that starts with identifying those resources,” she said.
As with addiction, you can’t begin working towards a solution until you acknowledge that there’s a problem. Tuesday’s gathering represented a great first step in mobilizing the community to take action.
“Addiction is ugly,” Nykreim said. “And not everyone wants to talk about it. There has to be an acceptance by the community that this is a serious problem in our beautiful Vail Valley. It’s not all perfect. We have real-life problems here.”
Lexi Evans is a local medical assistant and freelance writer. Email article comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.