The United States has a widespread problem with substance abuse. In recent years, drug overdoses have become the leading cause of accidental deaths in the country. There are several contributing factors to this disturbing trend, and while lawmakers at federal, state, and local levels take action to attempt to reduce the number of new addictions and new overdose deaths, awareness and education are vital for prevention.

Colorado’s Unique Drug and Alcohol Addiction Challenges

Over the past decade, prescription opioid painkillers have claimed more lives than any other drug. Following closely in second place is heroin, a popular alternative for addicts who can no longer find prescription opioids. Statistics indicate that on average, 35 Colorado residents die each month from accidental prescription opioid overdoses. Between 2000 and 2011, the number of deaths caused by prescription opioid medications quadrupled, and Colorado reports that nearly a quarter of a million residents abuse or misuse prescription opioids every year.

Colorado Opioid and Heroin Abuse

One of the most troubling aspects of prescription opioid painkiller abuse is that once a person has developed an addiction, they often wind up resorting to heroin use. Opioids are extremely potent and very effective at treating various types of pain, but they also have profound effects on the body. Specifically, the human brain’s opioid system can fall out of its regular cycles and enhance the addictive nature of opioids. Once addiction has taken hold, addicts will often resort to illegal means of obtaining more doses.

From 2011 to 2015, heroin deaths in Colorado tripled. In 2014 alone, there were 151 fatalities from heroin overdoses, and heroin is the top killing illicit drug in the Denver area, as well. Heroin is relatively inexpensive, so many people who start using prescription opioid painkillers may turn to heroin in desperation. A patient may have a legitimate medical need for opioid painkillers, such as a serious injury or a surgical procedure, but once they run out of refills for their painkillers, heroin can sometimes be an attractive alternative. Opioids have some of the most extreme withdrawal symptoms, and the psychological hold the drugs have on the human brain is intense.

Colorado’s Marijuana Legalization

One distinct advantage Colorado has in the fight against prescription painkiller deaths is the fact that marijuana is legal for purchase and use by adults in the state. Generally, marijuana is treated similarly to alcohol, and state lawmakers have developed educational materials for both citizens and tourists to inform them about marijuana use. The debate over whether or not marijuana should be legalized is a state-by-state issue, but it remains classified as a Schedule I controlled substance at the federal level. This classification is likely to change due to increasing pressure from advocacy groups and clear evidence that marijuana has medical applications.

Medical marijuana is commonly prescribed for chronic pain, which makes it a viable alternative to prescription opioid painkillers. While each state has unique advantages and vulnerabilities in the fight against substance abuse, one unforeseen result of Colorado’s marijuana legalization was a drop in prescription opioid deaths. According to research conducted by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, states that have legalized medical marijuana prescriptions have seen a dramatic decrease in the number of prescription opioid painkiller overdoses.

Combating Addiction

While Colorado may have some advantages in the fight against substance abuse and overdose deaths, addiction remains a persistent threat to the health and wellbeing of Colorado citizens. Substance abuse treatment is a vital service that helps many addicted individuals regain control of their lives, and family and friends of addicted individuals need to know how to start the recovery process.

Drug & Alcohol Intervention in Colorado

The first step for many addicts on the road to recovery is an intervention. Friends and family will gather to confront the addict about his or her behavior to show their loved one the effects the addiction has had on the people closest to him or her. Done constructively, this is a valuable opportunity to convince an addict to seek treatment. However, addiction runs deep, and many addicts will avoid treatment or deny they have a problem. Additionally, emotions can run high during an intervention, and family members who truly mean well may unintentionally widen the divide between the addict and his or her support system.

The detox process, especially when it comes to prescription opioids and heroin, can be extremely unpleasant and even life-threatening for some addicts. Addicts tend to avoid withdrawal at all costs, which typically means securing more drugs. Depending on the addict’s overall health, length and frequency of drug use, and several other factors, withdrawal symptoms can be fatal in some cases. Proper medical attention and supervision are vital for addicts, and a well-staged intervention can help them get the first foot in the door for treatment.

A professional interventionist is one of the most valuable assets to have in these situations. At Family First Interventions, we have extensive experience helping families make interventions positive, healthful experiences, and over 90% of the interventions we manage result in the addict agreeing to treatment. We can help your family have a constructive conversation and encourage your addicted loved one to seek the treatment he or she needs before addiction spirals out of control.