The epidemic of opioid use, misuse, addiction, and overdose deaths across the country continues with few signs of slowing. Here in Colorado, the highest concentration of people dying from opioid overdoses is in the southeastern corner of the state, creating challenges for rural deputies and doctors.
“I has created a lot of havoc for us,” said Crowley County Sheriff John ‘Smokey’ Kurtz.
“The only change is it has gotten worse,” said Bent County Sheriff David Encinias.
“We have a tremendous situation in this valley,” said Carrie Cutrell, Chief Nursing Officer for Arkansas Valley Regional Medical Center in La Junta.
Counties and towns across the Lower Arkansas Valley are seeing a spike in the number of people hooked on prescription painkillers and heroin. “This kind of started off several years back with the prescribed meds,” Encinias said. “We’re seeing a lot of heroin being sold widely all over the county,” Kurtz said.
According to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, the state’s southeastern corner has the highest opioid overdose death rate in the state. “It’s crossing all socio-economic boundaries, all ages, all races,” Cutrell said.
As the only emergency room serving Otero, Bent, and Crowley Counties, Arkansas Valley Regional Medical Center says it sees a renewed doubling in the number of opioid-afflicted patients every couple of years. “Much worse,” Cutrell said. “We weren’t even collecting numbers and data five years ago.” Worse yet, it’s not just adults being afflicted. “We’re seeing an increase in babies who are born with an addiction,” Cutrell said.
For rural law enforcement like Sheriff Encinias in Las Animas, the surge in opioid cases is putting a strain in small department staffs. “It started with pills. Now we’re into street drugs,” Encinias said. “We’re getting a lot of burglaries. You name it, we’re getting quite a bit of it.” “They’ll burglarize your house to steal your TVs and drills and saws or whatever you happen to have just to pawn them off at the pawn shops all over the state and then get money to pay for their drugs that way,” Kurtz said.
Kurtz says his deputies carry NARCAN Nasal Spray, an emergency treatment that has saved lives in his county. “We had an incident where one woman here took one pill prescribed by a doctor and it knocked her out,” Kurtz said. “She fell over and hit her head on the table. I’m very concerned about the strength and potency of those drugs.”
For the addicted and overdosing, treatment options in the rural southeast are slim. “We have a rehab facility in Las Animas called Resada and we also send patients to Crossroads (Turning Points) in Pueblo. Short of that, there’s not any true drug rehab facilities around here,” Cutrell said.
“We do the best we can to find places to get them some rehab and whatnot, but in this area here we don’t have those resources,” Encinias said.
“It really would help us immensely if the doctors would police themselves,” Kurtz said. “Just say, ‘Does this guy or this gal really need these drugs this strong or this potency?'”
“Once they get a taste for it, they’re just chasing it and chasing it, they need more and more,” Cutrell said. “We just need more resources down here. I think everybody has the problem, urban or rural, but we have less resources down here to fight the problem.”
“It’s going to get worse unless we start doing something about it,” Kurtz said.