According to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), one resident died every 36 hours from an opioid overdose in 2015. Most died from abusing prescription opioids such as hydrocodone and oxycodone. Opioid addiction also plays a huge role in Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS), in which mothers taking opioids during pregnancy risk giving birth to babies born with an opioid addiction, who later have to suffer withdrawal. As a result, the number of NAS births in Colorado have increased from 194 in 2012 to 371 in 2016.
Deaths from opiates are not distributed equally across Colorado but are actually higher in certain counties such as Pueblo County and other southeastern counties. Nevertheless, the state government has taken steps statewide to reduce the number of overdose deaths, including increasing access to naloxone and providing more disposal sites for unused pain medication. This past June, Colorado hospitals and emergency rooms began conducting opioid research through a program called the Opioid Safety Pilot Program. Emergency rooms are usually the first contact patients have with opioid painkillers, for example, an emergency physician might give out an opioid painkiller for an ankle sprain. The Opioid Safety Pilot Program mostly focuses on lowering the number of opioid prescriptions coming out of the ER, as well as the number of pills in each prescription. Additionally, the program also offers medication alternatives for pain reduction.
The governor of Colorado, John Hickenlooper, is also focused on tackling the opioid epidemic in the state. Several years ago, Medicaid coverage in Colorado was expanded to provide better access to substance abuse treatment; about 450,000 Coloradans obtained treatment who had not been able to access it before. Hickenlooper signed a bill this past spring that aimed to increase the number of Coloradans accessing treatment and expanded Medicaid coverage. Additionally, he created a consortium for prescription drug abuse prevention in Colorado in which several businesses are working together to abate the opioid epidemic. During an interview with NPR, Hickenlooper also affirmed the necessity of Colorado’s partnership with the federal government and the need to make sure resources and effective law enforcement are available not just to the state of Colorado but to the entire United States.