The issue: 

The opioid crisis is taking lives, stealing productivity and robbing children of their families and their innocence.

What we think: 

It’s time to do more than talk, it’s time to come together for solutions.

In 2016, there were 767 opioid prescriptions written for every 1,000 residents in El Paso County and pharmacists dispensed more than 30.6 million pills that year.

Opioid deaths nearly doubled in the county — from 66 to 120 — between 2013 and 2016 and now outnumber fatalities from car accidents. That reflects a statewide trend where prescription drug use now kills more people than automobiles.

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And the number of newborns addicted to opioids across the state jumped 83 percent from 2010 to 2015.

The Community Health Partnership shared these findings and others when it provided the details from a comprehensive community readiness study in El Paso County earlier this week. Funded by the Colorado Health Foundation, the local nonprofit has taken on the gargantuan task of not only studying the issue — but also developing an action plan to fully address the problem in El Paso County.

It’s not going to be easy.

The problem isn’t just in El Paso County or in the state of Colorado. Nationwide, 2.4 million people have substance use disorders related to nonmedical use of opioids, according to the CHP report. Due to massive over-prescribing, the pills are shared inappropriately with family members, sold illegally or stolen from medicine cabinets.

And the problem is exacerbated when people with addiction issues no longer have access to prescription medication. They turn to heroin. In September 2017, law enforcement recovered 11 pounds of heroin in El Paso County, with a street value of $2.4 million, according to CHP.

The issue isn’t just cutting off supply to prescription opioids, and it’s not just educating the workforce and youths about the dangers of abusing prescription medication. It’s about public safety; it’s about reducing the overall societal impact. (Nationwide, 92,000 children entered the foster care system because of their parents’ drug use. Opioids account for a 32 percent spike in child welfare cases across the nation, CHP says.)

CHP is considering awareness campaigns to change behaviors about the use of prescription medication, they are encouraging restricted access to prescription drugs that are being used for nonmedical reasons, and they want to educate providers about using other methods for pain management.

The Colorado Springs Business Journal is getting involved in helping find a community solution to this daunting community problem.  We’re hosting an opioid conference on May 26 to do more than talk about the issue — we’re partnering with the Community Health Partnership to help build a framework toward actions.

A panel of experts will talk about removing policy barriers to substance abuse treatment, how productivity is affected by the widespread use of opioids and advocating for health care parity — access for all health care needs associated with prescription opioid misuse and heroin use.

We’ll discuss public-safety measures; debate the need for workforce programs that educate people about safe use of opioids and how people can get help when they need it.

It’s time to address the issue, learn what is being done and find ways to create a healthy environment for El Paso County businesses and their workforces. Join the CSBJ and the Community Health Partnership on May 26 to be part of the solution to a complicated issue. Look for more information in the Business Journal leading up to the event.