New group seeks help battling the opioid epidemic in Roaring Fork Valley

Scott Condon
Scott Condon

A group battling the spread of opioid addiction in the Roaring Fork Valley has put out an open invitation to people on the front lines to join them and offer their expertise.

Members of the Community Opioid Treatment Strategy Project want “free rangers” to attend their next meeting Wednesday and broaden the perspective of the group. Project director Jarid Rollins said free rangers are anyone not affiliated with an official treatment program. He said the group could use the help of people addicted to opioids or those in treatment. The identity of such participants would be confidential, he said.

Midvalley Family Practice in Basalt received a $200,000 grant this spring from the Health Resources and Services Administration to plan opioid prevention, treatment and recovery. It created the community project. The focus is from Aspen to Glenwood Springs, Rollins said.

The group has attracted prevention and recovery specialists, medical officials, law enforcement and judicial representatives and mental health experts. Rollins wants to reach beyond the official channels.

“What sets us apart is we want to bring voices in that aren’t part of a (treatment) organization,” said Rollins, a social worker in the valley.

People who have been affected by the opioid crisis may be in a position to offer insights that will help the project achieve its mission of prevention, treatment and recovery more effectively, he said.

The meeting is from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at the Carbondale Library. Rollins can be reached at 970-927-4666 for more information about the meeting and the project’s goals.

In the big picture, Rollins aims to educate people about opioid addiction and remove any stigma that exists.

“I would like to see great community awareness of the opioid crisis,” he said.

People who are taking painkillers for anything from a sports injury to a work mishap can end up addicted.

“There needs to be a greater call to action that opioid addiction can happen to anybody,” Rollins said.

The federal money was a planning grant that covers June 2019 through May 2020. The Community Opioid Treatment Strategy Project intends to come up with ways that existing organizations and resources in the valley can be harnessed to work on opioid issues. Once those avenues are identified, community groups and treatment centers can apply for additional grants to implement the steps.

Rollins said the goal isn’t to create new groups for prevention, treatment and recovery, but to “grow capacity” in the existing infrastructure.

“We have some really great experts in this valley,” he said. “We’re leaning on our experts.”

Rollins said he hasn’t seen thorough data on drug overdose deaths in the counties comprising the Roaring Fork Valley.

“Anecdotally, there’s a ton of opioid use,” he said. “I would say it is widespread.”

There have been some tragic examples of opioid overdoses as well, including the death of two men in a home in Blue Lake subdivision in March 2017.

The opioid crisis started sweeping the U.S. about two decades ago. The number of drug overdose deaths increased from 6.1 per 100,000 people in 1999 to 21.7 deaths in 2017, according to a report by Term​Life2Go, which matches clients with insurance companies. Much of the growth in overdose deaths has come since 2014, according to TermLife2Go’s report, which is based on data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Based on his experience in social work in the valley, Rollins believes a lot of drug addiction is tied to mental health issues.

The Community Opioid Treatment Strategy Project is eager to refine ideas and figure out how to implement them.

“There are some priorities set,” Rollins said. “We need to figure out how to make those things happen.”

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