Across the state, the overdose death rate rose 68 percent from 2002 to 2014, according to the Colorado Health Institute. In 2014, about 900 people in Colorado died a drug overdose.
During the same span, deaths in Montezuma County have risen from 4 to 6 deaths per 100,000 to 12.1 to 14 per 100,000. Since there are not 100,000 people in the county, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention adjusts the numbers to make them comparable to other counties, said Tamara Keeney, policy analyst with Colorado Health Institute.
The trend is being driven by people who develop an addiction to prescription opioid painkillers that escalates to heroin dependence, she said.
“It’s become what the CDC calls one of the top four epidemics in the country,” said Robert Valuck, director of the Colorado Consortium for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention.
In the San Luis Valley, a regional hot spot for drug overdoses, the physicians have all agreed to prescribe opioids like OxyContin and codeine in the same way, to help prevent doctor shopping.
“A lot of people are bouncing around till they get the answer they want to hear,” he said.
The consortium also supports community-wide safe-disposal programs, to get old prescriptions out of medicine cabinets. About two-thirds of those with an opioid addiction started by taking old medication that wasn’t prescribed to them, he said.
The sheriff’s office would like to open a drop box where unused opioids could be left and later properly destroyed, Sheriff Steve Nowlin said.
The current obstacle is proper storage, he said, but he knows there is strong interest because a collection event this fall was successful.
There is also a need because law enforcement has noticed an increase in heroin being seized on the street, Nowlin said.
But to tackle all the substance abuse issues in the county, including alcohol, which is still the biggest problem, the community needs a detox center, he said.
“We got to have someplace that will take care of these folks the way they need to be taken care of,” he said.
The jail is not the right place to help with substance abuse.
He said the effort to start a detox center could start with a community discussion that would include local governments, churches, nonprofits and other interested groups.
“There may be a good solution out there that hasn’t been thought of. ... It just takes everybody,” he said.