America’s opioid crisis, which was big news only six months ago, has fallen out of the limelight, and largely out of the public discourse. People seem to have forgotten (or at least, moved on); and with more pressing threats looming over our society, the state has begun to make huge cuts in funding for addiction treatment, education and recovery programs.
But, just because the world is in the midst of a viral pandemic, doesn’t mean that our “drug epidemics” have taken a break or even slowed down.
In fact, many in the addiction treatment industry believe that Colorado’s opioid crisis is about to get a lot worse in the coming months and years. Another wave of the opioid crisis is likely coming, according to medical professionals, therapists and others in the treatment industry.
That's due in large part to the State budget cuts — but also because of the inherent stress that has saturated this foul year of 2020. Isolation, financial uncertainty and existential anxiety are all heavy contributors to drug use and abuse.
“It’s not just an opioid crisis — it’s a behavioral health and coping crisis,” Tanya Sorrell, a psychiatric and mental health nurse practitioner and associate professor at the University of Colorado College of Nursing Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora, told the Colorado Sun. “We are even more stressed and poorer-coping now than we were four months ago, as a nation.”
In Colorado alone, 30,705 people have died (as of this article) leaving families and friends behind in mourning; the unemployment rate is at 10.2% (down from 11.2% in April), meaning parents everywhere are struggling to feed their families; and still, the state government is encouraging people to keep their distance from one another, to remain as isolated as possible.
And how are we coping with all that? Well, alcohol sales in the US have risen by 22% — and while cannabis in Colorado has been up and down over the months, it’s been steady and largely above average. We’re leaning on our substance crutches; using them to hobble through these corona-times like a cripple.
Of course, opioids are one of our society’s go-to crutches. (One that’s been steadily and intensely forced upon The People by Big Pharma and physicians around the country, for decades.) The COVID crisis has only put more pressure on people, and offered many a lot of free-time to think about their grim situation.
Which has resulted in a 34% increase in prescriptions for anxiety drugs like Xanax, Ativan and other benzodiazepines.
Even before this madness started in February, last year Colorado’s overdose deaths rose from the previous year, and the number of fentanyl deaths doubled.
And now, because Colorado (along with every other state in the nation) has been so financially disturbed by the health crisis at hand, they’re taking huge cuts out of opioid-related programs. They saved $8.5 million by delaying an already-long-awaited Medicaid program by six months, which would have offered both in-patient and residential treatment options for drug and alcohol addiction.
It was going to be the biggest expansion of opioid addiction treatment in Colorado history. However, it was a corner that state budget writers saw fit to see cut — fat that could be trimmed.
They also cut $5 million from sober living homes in Rural Colorado; took some $500,000 out of programs designed to train doctors and nurses on handling opioid addicted patients; cut some $750,000 out of public-awareness and education campaigns; chopped $735 million from addicted prison inmate (and post-inmate) programs; shaved $637,000 from opioid addiction programs for pregnant women; and nixed many other initiatives and opioid programs altogether.
All told, the state managed to save itself $26 million. Not a bad haul.
Those are just part of the billions of dollars in budget cuts the state is making in order to balance out the cost of a health crisis, an extended economic shutdown and explosive unemployment rates. In addition to gutting opioid treatment programs they made half a Billion (with a ‘B’) in cuts to education programs, almost a million to the state’s family planning programs, and $225 million to pension programs according to NPR.
Someone was certainly making some very challenging ethical choices on where to make these cuts.
Which many in the treatment industry believe, is going to have some dark consequences in our society. When you combine the stress factor of this pandemic, with people’s tendency to use opioids to cope and the state’s massive $26 million cut to treatment, well… it might just create the perfect storm.
As if things weren’t already nasty enough, with another wave of COVID-19 likely on its way, another serious wave of opioid overdoses is the last thing Colorado needs.
“People of course are paying attention to COVID-19. I am too, but the opioid crisis was still a major thing in and of its own, and it wasn’t showing much sign of abating anyway,” Rob Valuck, executive director of the Colorado Consortium for Prescription Drug Use Prevention told the Sun.
“We have to keep one eye on each.”