DENVER — Prescription drug abuse is an epidemic in Colorado and across the country.
“As a nation, the number of deaths that come from overdose is greater than the number of deaths from car accidents,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell.
Burwell’s comments came during a visit to Denver on Thursday, in which she met with Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper and other state medical officials to specifically discuss the surge in prescription opioid abuse.
Colorado has improved its national standing when it comes to prescription drug abuse in recent years through programs that reduce and monitor opioid prescribing, increase medicated assisted treatment and improve access to the overdose drug Noloxone.
In addition to hearing from state officials, Burwell also took time to meet with Blair Hubbard, a former addict who shared her own story of overcoming the addiction that is killing so many.
When Hubbard was 18 years old she says she went from an “A” Student to an addict after receiving a painkiller prescription for her wisdom teeth surgery.
“When my prescription had run out and I couldn’t get any more refills, I pretty much sought out pain pills on the street,” Hubbard said.
After spending five years addicted to prescription opioids, Hubbard switched to heroin. Shooting up led to scars and even a partially amputated finger, but Hubbard didn’t kick her addiction until an infection nearly killed her.
“Had I not gotten help when I did, if I had waited even hours longer, I probably wouldn’t have lived,” Hubbard said.
In 2013 nearly twice as many Coloradans died from prescription opioid overdoses than drunk driving crashes, but Blair avoided becoming a statistic thanks to the methadone clinic at Denver Health.
On Thursday, she spoke to a panel of medical experts, state and federal officials, sharing her perspective on how to help people out of addiction.
“I think what would have made a difference early in my addiction is if I had known more about medically assisted treatment programs,” Hubbard said. “I tried numerous rehab programs, they were all abstinence based and they don’t work.”
Blair says she’s proof of what does work, and she says she’s proud to keep working to help others.
“I think that we’re all coming around on the federal and state levels and it’s great,” Hubbard said. “I mean, God, I hope it continues.”