This week, a diverse panel will address a growing problem plaguing not only El Paso County but most of the country — the opioid crisis.

“The abuse of opioids is now a leading cause of death in the United States and recently was identified as a cause for the decrease in life expectancy in the country,” said José Esquibel, director of the Office of Community Engagement in the Colorado Office of the Attorney General, in an email. “The crisis is impacting families and communities, and a local coordinated effort is essential to addressing the problem.”

Esquibel is one of seven panelists scheduled for the 2018 Opioid Crisis Forum, to be held 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Thursday, May 24, at The Pinery at the Hill, 775 W. Bijou St. The event is sponsored by the Colorado Springs Business Journal, Community Health Partnership and Pyxant Labs.

The purpose of the forum is to discuss the opioid epidemic’s impact on the Pikes Peak region, emphasizing how it affects businesses and providing an opportunity to discuss solutions. 

“It is critically important that we have conversations about the impact of the opioid crisis around the state. … I have insights into the ways the opioid crisis is impacting Colorado and I have first-hand knowledge of the work being done to address the crisis at the state level and in various Colorado communities,” Esquibel said.

A recent national survey found that seven out of 10 employers reported an impact from prescription drug abuse. 

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“The negative impacts reported include absenteeism or missed work, impaired or decreased job performance and near miss or injury in [the] workforce,” Esquibel said. 

The workforce is also affected by illegal drug activity and the related consequences, as well as employees touched by a family member’s opioid abuse or overdose. 

“As we see more people with an opioid use disorder receive treatment, these individuals will be in the workforce and there are ways the workplace can support people in recovery,” Esquibel said.

John Spears, the chief librarian and CEO of the Pikes Peak Library District, is also slated to take part in the forum, along with Andrew Romanoff, the president and CEO of Mental Health Colorado; Lisa Raville, the executive director of the Harm Reduction Action Center; Evan Withrow, an attorney with the Employers Council; Jim Johnson, the CEO of G.E. Johnson Construction Co.; and Lt. Mark Comte of the Colorado Springs Police Department.

“With the people who are on the opioid panel, it seems that it is a pretty good cross-section of the community,” Spears said. “There are people from government agencies, businesses and mental health providers because this is something that is going to take all of us working together to really address it.”

To learn more about the event as well as local emergency departments’ efforts to combat the opioid epidemic, see the May 18 edition of the Business Journal. For tickets to the 2018 Opioid Crisis Forum, visit