Local law enforcement, feds step up efforts, funding to fight opioid abuse
Opioid deaths in Eagle County
2014: 1 mix drug intoxication
2015: 3 mix drug intoxication
2016: 1 heroin, 1 cocaine
2017: 2 mix intoxication
Source: Eagle County Coroner Kara Bettis
EAGLE COUNTY — Heroin can be hard to spot until its work is finished.
“It shows up in dead bodies,” said an Eagle County undercover cop.
Interstate 70 and U.S. Highway 24 are two of the country’s busiest drug-trafficking arteries, and Colorado’s Central Rockies resorts are at the crossroads — or in between the crosshairs if you’re a cop trying to stop it, say regional law enforcement leaders.
The majority of it moves on through to larger population centers. Some of it sticks.
“They get their own heroin, but then get a little bit more to sell to support themselves and their habits,” said Eagle County Sheriff James van Beek.
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Heroin is pharmacologically similar to prescription opioids, says the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Western Colorado office, based in Grand Junction. The resulting burst of dopamine in our “reward” circuitry becomes strongly coupled with the subjective “high” that is caused by most illegal drugs.
Local law enforcement is leading the fight against drug trafficking, including opioids and their chemical cousin, heroin.
Many people start with prescription drugs and move to heroin. It can be easier; you don’t need a prescription, van Beek said.
“Has there been a dramatic increase? No. Do we have it here? Yes. It’s a reality. It’s here,” van Beek said.
The feds are throwing money at the issue.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will provide $485 million in federal grants to states to combat opioid abuse.
Colorado received a $7.8 million grant as part of the 21st Century Cures Act, a bipartisan bill signed into law by President Barack Obama in one of his last acts in the White House.
Then there’s the Caring Recovery for Infants and Babies Act. It uses Medicaid dollars for residential pediatric care centers to treat unborn babies whose mothers suffer from addictions.
Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colorado, called the funding and treatment announcements “welcome news.”
“Last summer, I visited a unit at Parkview Hospital in Pueblo that treats babies who are born addicted to opioids and other drugs. The suffering that newborns experience while they go through drug withdrawals is truly heartbreaking. In Colorado, neonatal abstinence syndrome is up by 91 percent since 2012. This is why the CRIB Act is so important,” Tipton said.
Tipton is part of the Bipartisan Heroin Task Force.
“Over the last year, I have visited communities across the 3rd Congressional District that have been deeply impacted by the opioid abuse epidemic that is sweeping our nation. Many of our rural communities simply don’t have the resources to fight this epidemic and have called on the federal government for help,” Tipton said.
Often, people will take a few pills to get them through the front end of some injury and treatment. The pills will sit in the dark, in a medicine cabinet, and after a year, they think they’re doing the right thing by throwing the rest down the drain, or in the trash. Please don’t do that, van Beek said.
“We have some people digging through trash to find these things so they can sell them,” van Beek said.
There’s a safe disposal bin just inside the front doors of the Eagle County Justice Center, and local law enforcement also hosts drug take-back days. This year’s Drug Take-Back Day in late April saw a record of more than 248 pounds of prescriptions collected, said Jesse Mosher, public information officer with the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office.
Law enforcement officers around the region now carry Narcan, or naloxone, an antidote that can save people who have overdosed on opiates. Naloxone blocks opiates from their brain receptors for up to an hour and a half.
“In case of any accidental exposure to fentanyl to an officer, or in the event we respond to an overdose, we can administer it,” said Vail Police Sgt. Luke Causey.
It looks like they’ll need it.
The Colorado Department of Health and Environment says prescription opioid overdose deaths have quadrupled in Colorado since 2000, putting the state well above the national average.
Across the country between 2000 and 2015, opioid overdose deaths jumped 200 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2015, 33,000 Americans died from an opioid overdose. That’s about the same number of people killed in traffic accidents that year.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.