Lt. Gov. Dianne Primavera marked Colorado's progress in fighting deaths on the Capitol steps Wednesday to commemorate International Overdose Awareness Day.
"We've lost far too many of our friends, neighbors, and family members to overdoses over the last 20 years," she said. "But today is also an opportunity to lift up our survivors, those who come back from the darkest depth of addiction and whose stories remind us that with the right treatment and care, everyone in re achieve recovery."
Primavera heads up Gov. Jared Polis' Office of Saving People Money on Health Care, but she also sits on the Colorado Behavioral Health Task Force and the Behavioral Health Reform Executive Committee.
"I've heard countless stories of Coloradans who beat the odds, the ones who took that courageous step to ask for help and start their journey to recovery," she said. "Simply put the system in its current current form is not working. We must pursue bold reform to save lives and ensure that every Coloradan can receive timely, affordable, equitable and high quality services in their communities."
She spoke of work being done by the legislative and executive branches.
Each session lawmakers present and pass substance use legislation, and this year passed the comprehensive Behavioral Health Recovery Act that spells out specific steps and responsibilities of state agencies to define the score of problem and address solutions at a cost of $114 million this year.
"At the outset of this effort, we pledge to leave no Colorado in behind today," the lieutenant governor said. "We hold those who have died of overdose in our hearts and reaffirm our commitment to real lasting and effective behavioral health reform."
The problem isn't going away. It's getting worse.
"The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment counted 443 overdose deaths in Colorado from January to April of last year, a 35% increase over the same time duration in 2019.
The state health department also noted:
- Overdose deaths per 100,000 people increased in 2019, "creating an alarming upward trend of drug-related overdose deaths in Colorado," the state agency said
- Overdose deaths among Black or African-American Coloradans was the highest since 2000
- Overdose deaths among American Indians more than doubled from 2018 to 2019
- Fentanyl overdose deaths more than doubled from 2018 to 2019
- Cocaine, methamphetamine and prescription opioid overdose deaths increased from 2018 to 2019, as well, though heroin decreased from 3.9 per 100,000 to 3.5 per 100,000
Marc Condojani, the director of adult treatment and recovery at the state Office of Behavioral Health, said the state lost about 1,500 people to overdoses in the last year and a "staggering" 18,500 over the past two decades.
"The impact is incalculable and it only underscores the urgency of this challenge we face today," he said. "We honor that struggle and make space for that grief, but amidst the heartache, there is hope (that) by working together, we can greatly reduce overdoses and even reverse the trends we're seeing today."
Andrés Guerrero, the overdose prevention unit manager at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, outlined the work the state is doing against the onslaught.
"We're increasing collaboration between public health harm reduction and law enforcement agencies," he said. "We're increasing education around opioids and substance use disorder among medical providers. We're increasing access to Naloxone, fentanyl test strips and overdose prevention education.
"We've worked on the development of anti-stigma and needle stick prevention campaigns, and we've been supporting Colorado coroners by helping to pay for some toxicology testing. Of course, these prevention efforts are very important, but prevention is just one part of the recovery continuum."