What Can Be Done to Decrease Prescription Drug Abuse in Colorado?


“It’s a silent epidemic. People die one at a time. But, in 2013, overdose deaths were almost double the number of deaths related to drunken driving. And people have no idea.”

~Dr. Robert Valuck, PhD, Professor of Pharmacy at the University of Colorado Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, and Coordinating Center Director of the Colorado Consortium for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention

In February of this year, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper launched “Take Meds Seriously” a campaign that aims to lower prescription drug overdoses in the state. At the February news conference held at the University of Colorado Anschultz Medical Campus, Governor Hickenlooper said, “Colorado ranks 12th in the nation for abuse and misuse of prescription drugs.”

Working with The Colorado Consortium for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention, the campaign focuses on the safe and proper use, secure storage, and disposal of unwanted or unneeded excess prescription drugs.

Frightening Statistics about Prescription Drug Abuse in Colorado

As dramatic as that may sound, further statistics tell the rest of the story:

  • Between 2003-2010, the rate of calls to local poison centers due to opioid abuse nearly quadrupled.
  • On average during the period 2011-2013, 7600 people in Colorado went to the emergency room every year because of drug overdoses. 86% involved prescription opioid painkillers.
  • In 2013, 35 Coloradans per month died because of prescription drug overdoses.
  • Accidental drug poisoning deaths skyrocketed 82% 2004-2013.
  • More than one out of every three drug poisoning deaths were due to prescription painkillers.
  • Overdose deaths due to prescription painkillers such as fentanyl, methadone, hydrocodone, oxycodone, codeine, and morphine more than tripled 2000-2013.
  • 224,000 people in Colorado misuse prescription drugs every year.
  • According to a 2014 survey by the National Research Center, Inc. 40% of adults in Colorado misuse medicine, one-third for recreation.
  • One out of every four Coloradans report using pain medications in a manner not prescribed by their physician.
  • 29% of Coloradans have used prescription painkillers that were prescribed for someone else.
  • 42% of Colorado teenagers say that it’s “easy” to steal prescription drugs from their parents, saying that it’s “easier to get than beer”.
  • One out of every seven Colorado high school students has taken a prescription medication without a prescription. Among Colorado high school seniors, that number rises to one out of every six.

Not “If” Something SHOULD Be Done, but “What” IS Being Done about Prescription Drug Abuse in Colorado

It is obvious, that, as is the case in the rest of the country, that Colorado is facing a considerable challenge – how to deal with what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention call a “prescription painkiller overdose epidemic”.

Luckily, the state of Colorado and various organizations around the state have been taking proactive steps to stem the tide, and, they are already seeing some positive results. For example –

  • As the governor said, Colorado is #12 for the non-medical use drugs. However, that is a marked improvement from 2010-2011, when Colorado was the second-worst in the country.
  • The rate of calls the poison center has dropped to just 44% of 2010’s peak.
  • During the Colorado National Take-Back Initiative events 2011-2013, the Drug Enforcement Agency collected and destroyed 95,387 pounds of prescription medications. Each year, the amount collected increased significantly.

So what is being done to continue the progress that is being made?

The Colorado Medication Take-Back Program and associated events – This is a network of secure boxes where Coloradans can dispose of unused and unwanted medications at any time. Although the boxes cannot accept prescription narcotics or needles, there are several events where those items can be turned in for proper disposal.

Take Meds Seriously –This program aims to get the public involved in reducing prescription medication abuse through education about the safe use, safe storage, and the safe disposal of all prescription medications. More than just words, however, the program also gives Coloradans specific resources where they can achieve that trifecta of objectives.

The Colorado Consortium for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention – Launched in 2013, this campaign now has over 250 organizations and members striving to make Colorado “the healthiest state in the nation”. The goal is specific and concrete – to prevent 92,000 Coloradans from misusing prescription opioid medications by the year 2016. The consortium plans to do this through education, direct interaction with the public, mission-specific research, and cutting-edge treatment programs.

The Colorado Prescription Drug Monitoring Program – Signed into law in May of 2014, this program gives both prescribing physicians and pharmacists immediate access to a database of their patients’ prescription history. This helps medical personnel make informed decisions about the medications they are considering prescribing.

This database is open to physicians and physician assistants, optometrists, dentists, podiatrist, veterinarians, and even nurses who have the authority to prescribe medications. The prescriber can even set up sub-accounts for members of their team.

Physicians will even receive notices when one of their patients attempts to get prescriptions from multiple sources or in potentially-dangerous quantities.

Obviously, there is still progress to be made, but the state of Colorado seems to be taking steps in the right direction. Education and prevention efforts will reduce the number of new prescription painkiller abusers, while research and treatment options will be beneficial to those who are already dependent or addicted.

If you or a loved one are misusing or addicted to prescription pain medications, one of the best, most healthy decisions you can make is to contact professionals who specialize in addiction rehabilitation. Your future and possibly your life may depend upon it.












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