ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Drug abuse is now the No. 1 killer of adults younger than 50 years old, according to Dr. Donald Stader of Swedish Medical Center.
Many people first receive powerful painkillers in the emergency room, then are given prescriptions to take home.
The goal of a new project is to stop opioid abuse before any patient has a chance to become addicted.
Stader, an emergency room doctor, said the problem among those younger than 50 is frighteningly widespread, “worse than cancer, worse than accidents, worse than HIV AIDS,. This is really an unprecedented epidemic on a scale we've never seen before.”
Stader is a key member of a pilot program launched by the Colorado Hospital Association and the Colorado American College of Emergency Physicians.
Their mission is to provide alternative, nonaddictive remedies for pain.
"For way too long, medicine has been a one-trick pony with opioids for pain control," Stader said. "We have dozens of drugs and procedures which we can use on patients and never use an opioid.”
Those drugs include lidocaine and the E.R. medication ketamine. Stader said one drug being considered is “actually in the same class as ibuprofen, has an equal pain profile to morphine but is a much safer drug.”
Smaller communities in Colorado are also finding new ways to fight addiction.
Dr. Barbara Troy of Valley-Wide Health Systems in Alamosa uses suboxone to gently wean new mothers off addictive drugs.
"Just like having diabetes, having hypertension, these are all chronic diseases so what do we do, we treat them," she said.
Her patient Caitlin Geiser is healthy now after finding her way back from addiction and grateful for each day with her new baby .
She said she cherishes “being able to wake up and focus on the things that matter, like her and my family.”