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Opioid Epidemic Not Immune to Durango

Opioid Epidemic Not Immune to Durango

By Benjamin Mandile

Monday, December 18, 2017 | Number of views (549)

The Trump Administration has declared an opioid epidemic in America, and Durango is not immune to it, Jennifer Miller, clinical director of Southern Rockies Addiction Treatment Center said.


The epidemic includes both abuse of prescription pain medications and intravenous opioids such as heroin, Cmdr. Rita J. Warfield of the Durango Police Department said.


Heroin was a popular drug in the 1960s before use decreased, but Southwest Colorado has now become a large center for a rise in heroin use, she said.


“It runs a whole gamut,” Warfield said. “It can be people who have money, people who are indigent, poor, homeless, transient.”



DARE, a national drug prevention program, has been effective in deterring drug use among the youth population, but not as effective when these children become young adults, Rene C. Klotz, clinical director of the Fort Lewis College Health Center said.


There is not enough education about the harmful effects of opioids, leading people who have been legally prescribed pain medication to take more than they are prescribed, Klotz said.

Many opioid addictions start when someone is prescribed a narcotic as pain medication and the body becomes addicted to the opioid, Warfield said.


Opioid addiction is a chronic brain disease that is often not known about until after an addict has been exposed to opioids, Miller said.


Addiction is not a curable disease, but it can be controlled by treatment, she said.


Opioids have a high level of physical dependence that makes it dangerous to abruptly stop taking them, Koltz said. Quitting an opioid cold turkey is not a good idea, she said.


Withdrawal symptoms from an opioid includes an increased heart rate, dizziness, nausea, high blood pressure, anxiousness, and sweating, Klotz said.  


A lot of drug users can lead normal lives and regulate their use, allowing them to continue going to work under the influence, Warfield said.


Employers eventually catch on to signs of drug use, and depending on the job, they may terminate the employee, she said.


Some of these signs include tardiness, a change in normal behavior patterns, and possible interference with their job, Klotz said.  



The FLC Health Center specializes in finding the appropriate addiction treatment for students in need, Koltz said.


The FLC Counseling Center is one option for keeping a patient enrolled in school and attending classes, she said.


The health center attempts to keep students in classes during treatment, but it is not always possible, Koltz said.


Treatment does not have to be voluntary to be effective, Miller said.  There have been clients who have successful treatment but only started because a family member sought treatment for them, she said.


Treatment at Southern Rockies Addiction Treatment Center in Durango is designed on a case-by-case basis, Miller said.


There are different factors that determine the effectiveness and duration of the treatment, including the client’s drug use history, the substance used, lifestyle changes as a result of the drug use, and treatment history, she said.


The first step for a patient starting treatment is the screening process, Miller said.


Treatment is highly regulated at the state and federal level and there are admission criteria a client has to meet before treatment can begin, Miller said.


A potential client has a higher chance of starting treatment if the screening process is done in person rather than on the phone because the window when an addict is considering treatment can close quickly, Miller said.


If a potential client waits to come into the center, the possibility of showing up diminishes, she said.


The second step is a meeting with a doctor and a counselor, Miller said. Part of the treatment process at SRATC is having sessions with a licensed counselor to learn how to cope, Miller said.


Patients come to the center to receive their prescribed dose, she said.


Treatment is case by case, but methadone is a synthetic opioid that is commonly used in opioid treatment, Miller said. The synthetic opioid stabilizes the patient each day by making the patient’s opioid reactors believe they have received the drug it craves, she said.


The client should stay in treatment for two years for the best outcome after the treatment ends, Miller said. The client can learn how to maintain a job, car, and home, along with coping mechanisms through the mandatory counseling, she said.


The risk of contracting diseases, such as HIV, Hepatitis, and forming abcesses, decreases when a user starts treatment, Miller said.


Law Enforcement Interactions:

Police interactions with users depends on different factors, Warfield said.


If a user is not under the influence and is in withdrawal, they may appear animated, anxious and sweating, because their body wants the drug, Warfield said.


All Durango police officers carry the overdose reviving drug Narcan for heroin users because it has a high success rate in saving a user from an overdose, Warfield said.


If a user is under the influence they may appear to be asleep or deceased, she said.


Officers have had to administer Narcan, but it depends on if they arrive before the person dies, she said.


Narcan works by abruptly removing the drug from the opioid reactors, Koltz said.


Officers can take a user who is under the influence to detox, which is run by Axis Health, if the officer does not feel that it is safe to leave the user alone, Warfield said


Associated Crimes:

Durango sees a number of crimes associated with opioid use, Warfield of the Durango Police Department said.


“When you are addicted to something like that, your body thinks it needs it, and they will do just about anything they can,” Warfield said..


The crimes the DPD sees associated with the addiction the most are users altering their prescriptions or theft of the drug itself, Warfield said.


There have been cases where users will alter their prescriptions to receive more pills than their doctor prescribed, Warfield said. The pharmacies sometimes pick up on the forgeries and police will arrest a user for that, she said.


There are also cases where caretakers will steal pain narcotics from their employers, she said.


Sometimes users themselves will engage in doctor shopping, she said. Doctor shopping is where a user will search for doctors who will write them prescriptions when a previous doctor has stopped prescribing them, she said.

Opioid use is not bound to one group, she said.


“It is just not 20-year-olds doing this, it is people of all ages,” Warfield said. “And it is severe, something that we got to get control of.”


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