New nonprofit battles opioid crisis in Roaring Fork Valley
High Rockies Harm Reduction desperate for support to continue its mission
To learn more about High Rockies Harm Reduction’s services, its schedule of services and to donate, go to HighRockiesHarmReduction.com
A nonprofit organization formed to prevent drug overdoses in the Roaring Fork Valley region is struggling to survive a funding crisis right when its resources are needed most.
High Rockies Harm Reduction provides NARCAN and educates people on how to use medicine used to reverse opioid drug overdoses, and it also provides clean needles and safely disposes of used ones. It provides special strips for drug users to test for the presence of fentanyl, a powerful synthetic drug that taints everything from cocaine to pain pills and often proves deadly.
High Rockies Harm Reduction founder and executive director Maggie Seldeen has worked with other drug counseling services in the region and saw a need for a specialty service. In August she started what she calls a one-stop shop for a variety of services. HRHR also provides peer-to-peer support for drug addicts and their families. She helps people find the services they need by providing regular hours in Basalt, Carbondale, Glenwood Springs and Rifle.
Law enforcement and medical officials were witnessing increasing numbers of overdoses in the Roaring Fork and lower Colorado River valleys even before the COVID-19 crisis. The pandemic has exacerbated issues such as isolation, hopelessness and homelessness. That triggered further increases in drug overdoses nationally. There has been a huge response in harm reduction.
Seldeen said the same issues that are unfolding nationally are present locally.
“There was absolutely an increase in use of all substances, including alcohol,” she said. “Talk to anyone who works in a liquor store throughout the valley, and they were doing December sales numbers throughout all 2020 after March.”
In Colorado, prescription drugs are still responsible for more overdoses than any other drug. The damage from fentanyl is gaining.
“We experienced in the state a huge increase in fentanyl overdoses in 2020,” Seldeen said. “In 2019, there were 220 fentanyl overdoses across the state, and in 2020 there were 540.”
Garfield County’s overdose deaths increased from 10 in 2019 to 11 in 2020. Pitkin County went from “non-recordable data” in 2019, which meant none or one overdose death, to five in 2020. Eagle County saw a decline in reported overdoses.
However, the deaths don’t tell the whole story. It excludes nonfatal overdoses and cases where there are “reversals” — when people experiencing overdoses are saved by use of NARCAN or other means.
“This is really just the tip of the iceberg, because we know we’re not getting the full picture of overdoses or illicit activity,” Seldeen said. “It’s very difficult to get exact numbers.”
In Basalt, High Rockies Harm Reduction provides services every other Monday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the office of MidValley Family Practice. Many of its clients are referrals from the clinic’s drug counseling service.
In Carbondale, Seldeen has an office at the nonprofit complex The Third Street Center.
“I am literally three houses down from the house my mother overdosed and died in,” she said. “And I’ve lost a lot of other people.”
The “Who We Are” page on HRHR’s webpage tells Seldeen’s story in blunt terms. While growing up in the Roaring Fork Valley, she became an injection drug user at age 15. Her mother was a heroin addict and died while Maggie was still a teenager.
“Maggie struggled with her own addictions for many years and now seeks to give back to the community that created her,” her profile says on the website, HighRockiesHarmReduction.com.
Seldeen, 31, puts an exclamation point on the topic in an interview.
“I really come from a place of wanting to give back to this community and assure that the experiences that I had don’t happen to youth in our community,” she said. “I know that these problems exist. I know that people are struggling in our valley. I know that not everyone in the valley is a millionaire, and more now than ever before so many of us are struggling just to stay here. That struggle and stress just leads to use.”
She’s giving back through free, nonjudgmental services, and she hopes to continue for a significant time. She knows the services are desperately needed. She needs to find the money to keep providing them. HRHR received a grant from the Colorado Health Foundation that will renew in June, and it received a small grant from the town of Carbondale. Seldeen needs additional funding sources.
“”We’re in a position where we applied for a lot of funding, thought it was going to come through, it didn’t come through, so we’re not in a good position financially,” she said.
The grant applications receive high scores, but the rewarding organizations say the needs are so great right now because of COVID-19-related problems. They won’t have enough money to go around.
HRHR will reduce from two staffers to just Seldeen part-time.
“The COVID landscape has really just rattled the health fields in general,” Seldeen said. “We’re a new nonprofit, and we’re actually in a dire funding situation right now.”
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