Saguache County had been affected dramatically by the opiod epidemic. Yet, in three candidate forums, only the Sheriff candidates were asked to address it.
As long as we treat opiod dependency as a matter only for law enforcement, we abandon any hope of helping afflicted individuals and their families.
Opiod dependency, like all dependencies, is a health issue first and foremost. We must engage and direct county Public Health to pursue resources for solutions associated with this crisis. We do not have services in Saguache County to reduce harm associated with opiod dependency, largely because opiod dependency has been seen as:
– Not ‘that bad’ in the county
– A moral failing on the part of the addict
– Too expensive to manage at the county level
– A ‘waste’ of resources
– Law enforcement’s problem
– The fault and responsibility of drug manufacturers and prescribing doctors
These are excuses, not solutions. We can and must do better.
Alamosa County has put in place a harm reduction program that serves as a ‘first contact’ with drug users. Establishing continuing contact with a drug user is the first step towards helping them with their dependency.
This program is publically funded, and grant money is available in 2019 for Saguache County to get on board. We can work WITH Alamosa and surrounding counties to create a mobile (van based) harm reduction unit. A mobile harm reduction unit can make the rounds of the Valley and go directly towards afflicted areas, removing the transportation barrier for individuals without access to transportation. Repeated, scheduled contacts with those living with opiod dependency has been proven to reduce mortality and improve outcomes significantly.
If we can identify individuals struggling with dependency and give them a path out, we can improve the overall health of the county, build trust in the community, and alleviate the financial burden that opiod dependency puts on law enforcement and the spaces occupied in the county jail. Once we have started down the path towards harm reduction (keeping people alive), we can pursue counseling and other therapeutic solutions.
Additionally, an opiod overdose need not be a death sentence. Naloxone is now available for First Responders, yet our County EMS providers and Law Enforcement do not all carry Naloxone. Let’s change that.
If the opiod epidemic has taught us anything, it’s that addiction can afflict anyone. Opiod dependency crosses racial, socioeconomic, cultural, and ethnic boundaries. We can continue to do nothing, or we can take action. It is my position that we should take action.
Incumbent Saguache County Commissioner Tim Lovato currently supervises Public Heath and Veterans Affairs.
For more information about the opiod epidemic in the San Luis Valley refer to this information from the Colorado Department of Health.