Sheriff: 'This is just the beginning' of drug problem

Thursday, Sept. 22, 2016 6:33 PM
Hydrocodone and acetaminophen tablets, also known as Vicodin.

Montezuma County has seen six drug-related overdoses this year, including two within a week in August.

But this is just the beginning, Sheriff Steve Nowlin said. Heroin has arrived in Southwest Colorado, and usage is going up.

“This is just the beginning, and that’s sad to say,” Nowlin told The Journal in an Aug. 29 interview. “There’s more to come, and more will follow. The biggest message is that if you have information or if you see something, say something. It affects not only individuals but also families, our schools and the whole community.”

The nation is in the midst of an opioid addiction epidemic. From 2006 to 2014, more than 356,000 deaths have been attributed to drug overdoses nationwide. Deaths have increased 37 percent during that time.

Colorado is no exception.

From 2002 to 2014, drug overdose deaths rose 68 percent, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. There were 899 drug overdose deaths in Colorado in 2014, according to The Associated Press.

In 2002, the drug overdose death rate in Colorado was 9.7 per 100,000 residents. By 2014, that rate ballooned to 16.3 per 100,000 residents. That was higher than the 2014 national average death rate of 14.7 per 100,000 people, according to the state health department.

Cortez Police Chief Roy Lane said that he has noticed an increase in the amount of heroin in the area in the past year. Drugs are coming from population centers such as Albuquerque, Las Vegas and Phoenix, he said.

“It’s everywhere, not just here,” Lane said in an Aug. 24 interview.

‘It affects everybody’On Aug. 16, 18-year-old Chance Davidson, of Dolores, died from an apparent drug overdose. He died in the guesthouse on an upscale family home on just south of Dolores. He didn’t fit the stereotype of a strung-out kid on the streets.

Opiates don’t discriminate, Nowlin said.

“It affects everybody. It doesn’t matter where you’re from or whether you’re poor or upperclass,” Nowlin said. “It affects everyone in all walks of life.”

People sometimes don’t want their family secrets to be exposed, Nowlin said, but if they get past that threshold, community members and law enforcement will be able to work together to address the problem.

“What does it take to wake people up?” Nowlin said. “This is a problem — a serous problem — but we can do something about it. ... It just takes honesty and courage.”

In another recent overdose, Sheriff’s Deputy Justin Goodall responded to a location near Dolores about 6 a.m. on Aug. 18 where he found a person who had cut been cut with a razor. Goodall observed that the person had ingested some type of narcotic, his report states, and a witness at the scene told him that the person had stopped taking medication the doctor had given them.

The person was transported to Southwest Memorial Hospital for treatment.

How heroin affects usersFor many, an addiction starts with prescribed painkillers, Lane said. It doesn’t take much to get hooked.

“It’s a never-ending battle,” Lane said. “When people can’t get pills from a doctor, they go next to the street.”

In 2015, nearly 3.5 million prescriptions were written in Colorado, according to The Associated Press. That’s a rate of 0.64 prescriptions written per capita, under the national average of 0.71 per-capita for that time frame.

That number has decreased statewide from 3.68 million prescriptions written in 2013, but over-prescribing is still a part of the problem, Nowlin said.

Patients who are lawfully prescribed painkillers after surgery or an injury can become addicted, and when the prescription runs out, they turn to heroin, he said. Some addicts have been housed at the Montezuma County Detention Center after starting out being addicted to doctor-prescribed drugs, he said.

Once hooked, an addict rarely gets the help to be weaned off the drugs, Nowlin said.

“Once you have this (addiction), it’s what your body needs,” Nowlin said. “You can’t just kick this. It doesn’t work that way.”

The need for a detox centerNowlin said resources and facilities are available in Montezuma County to help rehabilitate addicts. But the community could do so much more to fight the opioid problem if more resources were available, he said.

Nowlin has asked for a detox center since he was elected in 2014, but he runs in to roadblocks when talk turns to where it would be located and how it would be funded.

Montezuma County simply doesn’t have enough money or manpower to support the fight against drug abuse, Lane said. Police and sheriff’s staff have formed a drug task force, but it’s funded by the sheriff’s office, without money from state or federal sources, Lane said.

Though Montezuma County sees smaller quantities of drugs come through the area, they still have a wide impact, the chief said.

“Smaller amounts of drugs go further here, but with that you don’t get recognition from the state or federal government,” Lane said.

Both departments are working with other agencies, and they’re stopping some sources of drugs, Nowlin said, but the drug task force can only do so much with limited resources.

“Not any one entity or government can take the burden on themselves,” Nowlin said. “It has to come from everyone. We have a very giving community, but we need to funnel it in the right direction. ... We’re never going to know what the right solution is until we try, so we have to try. It’s never going to go away.”

How to help

Police Chief Roy Lane and Sheriff Steve Nowlin offered tips on how to deal with drug abuse.

'Talk to your kids and family members about (drug abuse), and if you have a problem, seek help,' Nowlin said.

'There are plenty of places where we can get you some help before it ruins a life.'

A few tipsA change in ordinary habits could be a sign of drug abuse. Look for changes in sleeping and eating habits, Lane said.If you suspect a loved one may be abusing drugs, get them the help they need. 'They can't do it themselves,' he said.Learn what drugs look and smell like, Nowlin said. Learn their affects and symptoms.Parents should know what their children are doing, Nowlin said. At some parties in the area, substances are free for youths to take, including alcohol, marijuana, heroin and other drugs, he said.