Op-Ed: Bipartisan Law on Opioid Crisis Will Save Lives in Colorado

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While we may be turning a corner in our battle against the COVID-19 pandemic, another ongoing health epidemic needs our undivided attention in Colorado. The opioid crisis has taken too many precious lives away from families all across our state, and that reality only worsened over the past year. Most devastatingly, many of these lives could have been saved with naloxone, a medication that reverses an overdose when it occurs. The good news is lawmakers recognized that and worked across the aisle this year to protect more of our neighbors from these potentially fatal events.

This June, Governor Jared Polis signed SB21-011 into law, which will equip more Coloradans with naloxone. I was proud to work on this bill with my colleagues in the House and Senate — including Representative Rod Pelton (R-District 65) and Senator Rhonda Fields (D-District 29) — to know that we were doing what we can to stop the devastation of the opioid crisis.

I have personally seen how the opioid epidemic has destroyed families and communities in Colorado. As an emergency and trauma nurse, I am often the first direct point of contact for individuals and patients who have experienced an accidental overdose — many of whom are struggling with substance-use disorder or who may not even recognize that they were at risk of an overdose. Unfortunately, the isolation, stress and economic hardship caused by the pandemic has only exacerbated the growing numbers of fatal overdoses. In fact, according to preliminary data from our state’s Department of Public Health and Environment, overdose death rates were 37 percent higher between January and June 2020 than during the same time period in 2019.

My House and Senate colleagues and I understand the critical importance of educating patients — especially those who may be taking high doses of opioids — about the lifesaving potential of opioid overdose reversal medications like naloxone. Naloxone is an FDA-approved medication that effectively reverses the effects of an opioid overdose, giving patients another chance to live. Patients can only get that chance, however, if naloxone is present in situations when it is needed. SB21-011 will increase access to this medicine by requiring Colorado pharmacists who dispense an opioid to patients to offer an opioid overdose reversal medication, such as naloxone, if they meet specific requirements. This will empower prescribers and providers to educate patients about their risk of an overdose event and equipping them with it in a safe and non-stigmatizing way.

The opioid crisis is a complex public-health emergency in Colorado and requires a comprehensive solution. Naloxone is one piece of that, and by passing SB21-011, our state has taken a significant step toward addressing the rise in fatal overdoses and saving more lives.

Representative Kyle Mullica represents District 34 in the Colorado House of Representatives, which covers Adams County. He is the House Majority Co-Whip and works as an emergency and trauma nurse.

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