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Coalition to address opioid addiction in Roaring Fork Valley

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Drug overdose is the leading cause of unintentional injury-associated death in the United States. In 2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), prescription opioids were involved in 17,029 deaths or 24.2 percent of all fatal drug overdoses.

The CDC also cites higher rates of opioid-related deaths in rural areas. To address the ongoing health crisis, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS), in partnership with the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), has awarded grants to address prevention strategies and patient access to opioid treatment in rural communities.

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Four rural communities in Colorado are receiving grants, including a $200,000 planning grant awarded to the Community Opioid Treatment Strategy (COTS) coalition in the Roaring Fork Valley. A plan of action is being developed by individuals representing a coalition of some 20 local partner organizations.

Jarid Rollins, LCSW, from MidValley Family Practice in Basalt, wrote the grant application and is the COTS program director. He said bringing together the community partners, who form the COTS coalition, was an essential part of the process. According to Rollins, a successful and comprehensive opioid strategy will address the areas of prevention, treatment, and recovery.

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The first COTS coalition meeting, held in July, had representation from over 20 local organizations. The group will set priorities and strategies on how the Roaring Fork Valley can protect its citizens from opioid and substance abuse.

Statistics from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, Garfield County has the second lowest opioid-related death rate in the state.

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The Roaring Fork Valley’s opioid addiction statistics, as Rollins explains, “are less than the national average, compared to like Kentucky, or some other places.” He adds, “Though that doesn’t take away from these personal stories that I hear now, weekly, from people that I’ve been talking to, as part of this grant.”

Freedom Center, a Glenwood Springs-based nonprofit whose programs help mothers and their families who are battling addiction, is part of the COTS coalition.

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Mandy Owensby, Freedom Center board president and co-founder, says one of the first tasks for the COTS coalition was identifying community needs. She says, “We identified that there wasn’t enough sober living, that there was a need for peer support work with families that were having addiction crises, and helping them find access to services.” Another need she identifies is a lack of education about some of the underlying causes of addiction, and the social stigma around it.

Delfina Huergo is a Licensed Professional Counselor, LPC, with a private practice in Basalt. She is also a bilingual counselor with A Way Out, a non-profit that provides support to people in the Roaring Fork Valley dealing with addiction issues.

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“As far as I know, there’s very few, if any, treatment centers that provide services in Spanish in the whole country,” she said, explaining that there a cultural norms, within the Latino community, which make speaking out about substance use difficult, by saying “It’s a really silent issue for the Hispanic community; it’s generations that have been struggling with it.”

Asked what she would like to bring to the table, she said, “I want to have a voice for the Latino community in this Valley, so people can start connecting and know that there is a safe place for them to seek help, to seek support in their language, and with cultural awareness, as well as being trauma-informed.”

Another COTS participant is Jaywalker Lodge, the Carbondale-based rehabilitation center which provides relapse treatment and transitional sober living programs for adult men. Griffin Jarzombek is program supervisor for Jaywalker’s outpatient and sober living programs,

Jarzombek says there is a relationship between addiction and the burden placed upon a community’s legal system. He notes that “when someone is in full-blown addiction, they really can’t sustain it without partaking in some type of illegal activity.” He has spoken with law enforcement officers, from Glenwood Springs to Aspen, who see themselves as the last line of defense between those with addiction issues and the communities they serve.

Jarzombek explains, “It’s a frustration for them; it’s frustrating for us being people in recovery and people in addiction treatment.” He adds that “without the help of a real medical detox in the Valley, what ends up happening is all the people who are getting DUIs, and committing crimes that are related to substance abuse are ending up in the laps of the legal system, the officers, and the courts. And a lot of that is opioid-related and alcohol-related.”

The next step, after completion of the planning grant, will be to apply for an implementation grant. Rollins “I believe that a strong application will demonstrate that the coalition together developed the plan and that it has the potential to meet the needs of the many, not the few.”

The COTS coalition is determining the need for prevention, treatment, and recovery resources in the Roaring Fork Valley. They are seeking input from individuals in recovery, their family members, and interested community members. To facilitate that process, the first community meeting of COTS will be held Wednesday, Aug. 28, from 6 p.m. – 8 p.m. at the Carbondale Branch Library. The public is encouraged to attend.

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