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End Overdose Jeffco allows community to discuss opioid addiction

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By Deborah Swearingen

Addiction came quickly for Lemuel Lee.

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After being kicked out of his house at 11 years old, Lee started living on the streets, using and selling drugs. His addiction persisted, and for years, Lee worked his way in and out of the judicial system and ruined a lot of relationships.

“I want what I want when I want it,” Lee said. “With that mind frame, it didn’t matter who or what or why I hurt them. I burned every bridge in my life between me and my family and also between me and who I thought were my friends.”

Lee was one of many who spoke at End Overdose Jeffco on Aug. 29. The interactive and informational half-day event was organized by Jefferson County Public Health in an effort to demonstrate the magnitude of the problem locally.

Ultimately, Lee shared a story of success. He met a cellmate whose parents bailed him out and allowed him to live on their property. He recently celebrated five years of sobriety and said he learned a lot from Jeffco’s recovery program.

“What I have learned most from this program is that life isn’t all about me. It’s what I can help do and teach for others,” he said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some 72,000 people died from an overdose in the United States last year. More than 49,000 involved opioids. Furthermore, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment estimates 224,000 Coloradans misuse prescription drugs every year, and in Jefferson County, there were 91 overdose deaths in 2016.

Because of this, communities — Jefferson County included — are joining together to do something about it. Approximately 100 health professionals, county workers and others attended last week’s event to talk about the problem and find solutions that work for Jefferson County.

End Overdose Jeffco featured a variety of speakers, including community members in recovery, professionals working in treatment and patient programming, local sober-living house representatives and the medical director at St. Anthony Hospital’s emergency department. There also was an overdose and response prevention training session that included Naxolone administration. The narcotic can help reverse an opioid overdose.

In addition, there were vendors and resources, and the eye-catching Opioid Memorial Wall was on display in the lobby of the county building. The wall, a national initiative, stands 8 feet tall and 34 feet long and is constructed of 4,200 pill bottles. Each bottle represents 10 Americans who lost their lives to heroin and prescription opioid overdoses in 2016.

In the mind of Rob Valuck, director at the Colorado Consortium for Prescription Drug Abuse and Prevention, education is important. People need to understand the risks and know that they can ask for other alternatives to treat pain.

“We prescribe too much. We use too much. We have too many leftovers,” said Valuck, a pharmacist by training. “People get ahold of them, and they get addicted and die. And that’s just the facts, and that’s the most common pathway to all of these numbers.

“And each number is a person — a son or a daughter, a family member, a community member. Our community has lost another member every time that happens. It’s just something we have to stop.”

Contact reporter Deborah Swearingen at dswearingen@evergreenco.com or 303-350-1042.