In 2011, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) declared an opioid epidemic in the United States. However, opioid abuse was occurring prior to that announcement, and has increased in popularity ever since. Currently, 2.1 million people are addicted to opioids including prescription painkillers. According to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), 948,000 people abused heroin and 11.5 million abused prescription opioids in 2016. HHS also reports that an additional 2 million people abused prescription opioids for the first time within that same year. Also, 116 people died each day from opioid-related drug overdoses in 2016.
In an effort to combat the growing opioid epidemic in the United States, a new bill has hit the floor requesting that Colorado have the freedom to develop supervised injection facilities within the state. Through these injection facilities (or “overdose prevention sites” are they are officially called), the hope remains that individuals can utilize clean needles in a clean environment, which will decrease the presence of blood-borne diseases like HIV and hepatitis. Also, these facilities will also be able to provide access to counseling services and treatment options for those who visit the site.
Controversy over the development of injection sites has been occurring since the 1980’s when these facilities were first introduced to the public. However, now that the opioid epidemic has reached an all-time high, opinions are flying both freely and strongly.
Seeking a Solution
On one side of the line, there is a great sense of urgency to implement injection sites into cities where opioid abuse is occurring at a rapid rate. However, those on the other side of the line argue that creating such facilities will only promote continued drug abuse and enable those who are already addicted.
According to Representative John Singer (D), “we want to make sure that there’s a bright clear line that shows that the state of Colorado is not endorsing drug use,” he stated. “What we are doing is making sure that people have access to clean syringes if they’re going to use and access to counseling services when they use so that they can stop the behavior.”
The first version of the bill had Denver slated to serve as a pilot location for an injection site, however, this part of the bill was changed so that other parts of the country where high opioid overdose rates could be included instead.
However, that has not stopped the bill from continually moving forward, and not just with the intent of opening injection sites.
Federal statistics show that 70% of those who abuse heroin had been abusing painkillers first. Therefore, another layer of this bill pushes for reform regarding prescribing practices amongst medical professionals.
This is a particularly important topic for the state of Colorado because, in 2013, they were ranked as the second worst for prescription drug abuse in the United States. Not only is this a growing concern for further instances of prescription opioid abuse, but it also concerning in regards to the growth of heroin abuse in the state, as many people who are addicted to prescription opioids turn to the abuse of heroin, thus perpetuating this deadly cycle.
Colorado Taking Action
Senate Bill 22 is the proposed bill that would make it so that any opioid prescription that is written would be limited to a one week supply with only one additional refill for another seven days. In this attempt to help prevent misuse of prescribed opioids, concern has developed for those who appropriately utilize prescription painkillers for chronic pain conditions and the like.
“We are going to limit those prescriptions in a way that is thoughtful and ensuring that we are not discriminating against people who need medication and access to those painkillers to get back their quality of life,” stated Singer.
With the hope of better controlling prescribing practices amongst medical professionals to decrease instances of prescription opioid abuse, this bill also works to address other major issues surrounding the opioid epidemic. For example, the bill proposes making medication-assisted treatment a much more accessible form of care for those who need to withdraw from opioids in a supervised setting. Through medication-assisted treatment, those who are addicted to opioids can receive medications that help minimize the intensity of their withdrawal symptoms (such as nausea, vomiting, insomnia, dehydration, hallucinations, and physical pain) so that they can push through the period of detox and into professional treatment.
While medication-assisted treatment has proven to be safe and effective, it is still not a readily-available form of treatment, meaning that there are not enough facilities to support the growing demand nor are there enough options to finance this type of service.
Additionally, the bill requests to expand Medicaid to cover inpatient treatment. While there are countless treatment facilities throughout the country that offer inpatient treatment services, many of them are not covered by insurance, making it less likely for individuals to seek treatment due to an inability to afford it. In the same breath, the bill hopes to help encourage insurance reform so that not only inpatient treatment can be more affordable, but also that other services can be easily accessible through insurance.
Moving Toward Harm Reduction
However, the main focus still remains on implementing injection sites. While only a handful of sites exist in the country, there is some research that supports the many benefits of them.
Alex Kral, an epidemiologist at RTI International and Peter Davidson, a medical sociologist and professor at the University of California San Diego, conducted a study on an unsanctioned facility that has been in the United States for the past four years.
Kral and Davidson deduced that, after two years of observation, individuals who utilized the injection site were less likely to suffer social and personal ramifications of their use, and were more likely to recover. Additionally, overdose deaths were less likely, as trained emergency response professionals were able to supply life-saving care in the event that it was needed. Most importantly, an increase in drug treatment for these individuals occurred.
While the bill is still not passed and continues to have many different layers to it that need to be addressed and managed, legislators are working towards the development of new, sanctioned injection sites throughout the country with the hope that treatment rates increase and more lives can be saved.
Help is Available
If you are addicted to prescription painkillers, heroin, or both, know that there is help out there. Do not waste one more day abusing a drug that can cost you your life. Reach out for help by contacting us right now. We can help you overcome the challenges you face through your abuse and addiction. Recovery is right around the corner.