Ken Davis: New technology, public awareness key to fighting prescription drug abuse | SteamboatToday.com

Ken Davis: New technology, public awareness key to fighting prescription drug abuse

Ken Davis/For Steamboat Today

Steamboat Pilot & Today

Addressing the growing problem of abuse of prescription painkillers and other opioid drugs in Routt County and across Colorado is a major battle facing the healthcare, law enforcement, schools and treatment communities.

As the team leader of the Rx Task Force, I know firsthand that a coordinated coalition of engaged stakeholders must unite behind effective strategies to raise awareness and change social norms related to opioid abuse in the Yampa Valley.

Unintentional drug poisoning kills an average of 1.6 Coloradans every day. I personally am aware of eight drug overdose deaths in Routt County during the past seven months. Deaths from drugs, such as morphine, oxycodone, hydrocodone and methadone, have soared statewide from 87 in 2000 to nearly 300 in 2013, the most recent year for which statistics are available. That's nearly double the number of Coloradans who died from drunk driving-related fatalities.

This is especially troubling for our young people. More than 13 percent of Colorado high school students in our region have taken a prescription medicine without a doctor's prescription. That percentage rises to more than 17 percent among high school seniors. And this behavior extends past high school with 12 percent of 18- to 25-year-olds reporting they have abused prescription drugs.

That's why I was pleased to see that the federal Food and Drug Administration announced steps to increase the development of, and access to, abuse deterrent opioids to help combat this epidemic of addiction.

ADOs are new technologies that prevent medications from being crushed, injected or otherwise manipulated, making it harder for them to be abused. ADOs — with physical and chemical barriers placed in medications — are a great example of a win-win: patients get the pain relief they need, while those who would abuse prescription medications face a new, effective prevention tool.

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It's a tool I strongly support, because as a family medicine clinician and leader of Yampa Valley's Rx Task Force, I see firsthand the toll addiction takes on our families and community. That's why we are determined to forge a united front to combat opioid abuse.

The Colorado Consortium for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention coordinates a statewide response to this serious public health problem. Last year, Colorado adopted a new policy for prescribing and dispensing opioids that includes increased education on appropriate use, safe storage and disposal.

The policy allows medical professionals, including pharmacists and law enforcement, to use the Colorado Prescription Drug Monitoring Program to try to prevent people from "doctor shopping." Thanks to these and other public efforts, more and more Coloradans are getting the message that we must pay close attention to medicines in our home that are unused, unwanted or expired.

This is why recent DEA Prescription Drug Take Back Day events are a growing success. In one day alone, Rx Task Force and Sk8 Church in Steamboat Springs collected 52.5 pounds of prescription medications. In addition, the Routt County Sheriff's Office prescription drug drop box reportedly fills up nearly every day

The Rx Task Force is hosting three opportunities this month to learn more about this important issue listed below.

■ May 15 "Community Awareness & Legal Perspective," will feature the film "Chasing the Dragon" and a panel discussion by key local leaders, Mara Rhodes co-founder of the Rx Task Force, and Routt County Sheriff Garrett Wiggins.

■ May 17 "Experience and Medical Perspectives," will feature Austin Eubanks, director of The Foundry; Ken Davis, PA-C, co-founder of the Rx Task Force, and Hunter Weatherly, Yampa Valley Medical Center pharmacist.

■ May 19 "Roads to Prevention, Treatment, Recovery," will feature Katy Thiel, M.S.W., youth resiliency coordinator for the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association; Victorian Strohmeyer, registered psychotherapist and trauma expert with YVMC Pain Clinic and independent provider; and Erika Schmitz, CAC3, L.C.S.W., Mind Springs Health.

All events are open to the public and will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Chief Theater, 813 Lincoln Ave. in Steamboat Springs.

The opioid addiction epidemic is growing and cuts across all societal strata, including income, race, gender and geography. Its ability to destroy lives does not discriminate. We think that the abuse-deterrent policies coupled with raising awareness in our community can make the difference that is urgently needed to save lives in Colorado and across our nation.

Ken Davis, PA-C, is co-founder of the Rx Task Force.