Vail Health sponsors panel discussion in Edwards on opioid use and abuse | VailDaily.com

Vail Health sponsors panel discussion in Edwards on opioid use and abuse

Opioid epidemic, painkillers and drug abuse concept with close up on a bottle of prescription drugs and hydrocodone pills falling out of it on white

EDWARDS — The opioid epidemic that's plaguing much of the country has yet to hit Eagle County with full force. That means there's time to talk about how to address the problems of opiate drugs and those who use them.

With that in mind, the Vail Health Free Speaker Series is hosting a panel discussion on the opioid epidemic, featuring speakers able to talk about how the abuse of those drugs is affecting the way they do their jobs.

The discussion, led by Rebecca Larson of the Eagle County Department of Public Health & Environment, is set for 6 p.m. Wednesday, May 23, in the lecture hall at Colorado Mountain College's Edwards campus.

Larson noted that the abuse of prescription drugs is a growing problem both nationally and in Colorado. As of 2016, about 200,000 state residents had some sort of abuse problem with prescription drugs.

In Eagle County in 2016, there were more than 57,000 prescriptions filled for narcotic drugs. The county's population that year was just fewer than 53,000 people.

Most dangerous

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Those drugs often get into the hands of people other than patients. The 2015 Healthy Kids Survey for Eagle County reported that 16 percent of high school students reported taking prescription drugs without a doctor's prescription.

The most potentially dangerous of those are opioid drugs including OxyContin and hydrocodone. Nationally, deaths due to abuse of those drugs has increased dramatically.

According to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, opioids, including prescription pain killers and heroin, were responsible for 504 overdose deaths in 2016. That represents more than half of all drug-related deaths.

The death rate from opioids in 2016 was 16.1 deaths per 100,000 residents. That's 83 percent higher than the rate in 2001, when there were 8.8 opioid deaths per 100,000 residents.

There have been recent efforts to cut down on opioid prescriptions. That, though, has led some people to turn to heroin for pain management.

Speakers at the panel discussion will talk about medical alternatives to opioids. But there are more than medical needs involved in pain management.

Mental health

Kris Vandenberg is a psychiatric nurse practitioner at Mind Springs Health. She also has her own practice, New Beginnings Mental Health in Avon.

Vandenberg said she hopes those who attend Wednesday's discussion come away with a better understanding of what those addicted to opioids are going through and how that addiction affects their mental health.

Vandenberg said many of her patients are often suffering from mental health problems, as well as chronic pain.

Vandenberg said taking opioids for a long time can often worsen a patient's mental health issues.

Patients who are in recovery from other addictions often tell Vandenberg they have a hard time getting prescriptions for pain management.

"Is that person not entitled to pain management?" Vandenberg said.

Vandenberg said she's eager to have a discussion about opioids in Eagle County.

After starting out in cities, "It's starting to catch up with our valley," she said.

Larson said she hopes those who attend the discussion come away thinking about different ways patients can work with medical professionals to manage their pain.

While Larson and Vandenberg agreed that opioid drugs have a rightful place, use should be limited.

"Prescription drugs aren't always the most effective solution," Larson said. "And as community members, we also have the responsibility to use, store and dispose of these drugs properly."

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 and smiller@vaildaily.com.

If you go …

What: The Opioid Epidemic, part of the Vail Health Free Speaker Series.

When: 6 p.m. Wednesday, May 23.

Where: Colorado Mountain College, 150 Miller Ranch Road, Edwards.

Cost: Free.

More information: Go to http://www.vailhealth.org/series.