Few options for opioid addicts, Tipton told

U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton opens a panel discussion on opioid abuse at Colorado Mesa University on Wednesday.

The Western Slope is sorely lacking treatment for people suffering from opioid abuse, U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo, was told Wednesday.

Two cities in his 3rd Congressional District, Pueblo and Delta, rank among Colorado cities with high levels of opioid abuse, Tipton said, citing research by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

There are, however, no treatment centers on the west side of the Continental Divide for people suffering from opioid addictions, Tipton was told.

“To say that Delta is a hotspot (for abuse) and have no resources on this side of the mountain is atrocious,” said Serenity Santistevan, a counselor at Grand Junction High School, who attended Tipton’s forum at Colorado Mesa University on dealing with opioids among high school and college students.

The best way to tackle opioid addiction — which frequently is the result of using narcotics, or opioids, to relieve pain — would be to remove the stigma of addiction by treating it as an illness rather than as a criminal act, said Alecia Gordon, who attended the forum saying that her son suffers from it.

“There are a lot of parents like me,” Gordon said.

The lack of resources goes deeper than a lack of treatment centers, said Bob Lang, an addictions counselor and the director of Diversity, Advocacy, and Health at CMU.

There also is a lack of expertise, Lang said, noting that it’s possible to become a certified addictions counselor with only a GED, the equivalent of a high school diploma.

Opioid addictions act in such a way that susceptible people find that the narcotics not only relieve pain, but provide pleasurable feelings, said Dr. Bob Sammons, a Grand Junction psychiatrist and behavioral specialist.

The problem is that pain relief and pleasure require increasing amounts of opioids, and eventually sufferers need the narcotics to simply feel normal.

One treatment that has proven to be effective is Suboxone, an opioid that can reduce pain, without the pleasurable sensations of other opioids, Sammons said.

Suboxone also prevents other opioids from reaching receptors in the brain and users don’t gain a tolerance, Sammons said.

When he prescribes Suboxone, patients “hug my neck and thank me for giving them their life back,” Sammons said. “I have advocated for years for this medicine to be the first medicine used after the failure” of non-narcotic pain relievers such as aspirin.

It can take five years or more of a Suboxone regimen to allow the brain to rewire itself, however.

Young people don’t grasp the possible legal and other consequences of opioid addictions, which can make them ineligible for jobs in which operating machinery or vehicles is required, said John Flanagan, a former addictions counselor and now director of the Mesa County Workforce Center. It can also cost them financial aid for college.

“It can have drastic effects on their lives,” Flanagan said.

Information from such gatherings can be used to craft legislation to deal with the “devastating effects” of opioid addiction, Tipton said.


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