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Legislative committee to study opioid addiction

Lawmakers will look at how other communities acted to combat growing problem
A novel class of deadly drugs is exploding across the country, with many manufactured in China for export around the world. The drugs, synthetic opioids, are fueling the deadliest addiction crisis the U.S. has ever seen.

DENVER - A bipartisan committee of Colorado lawmakers will convene today to hear from experts on the prevalence of opioid and other substance abuse disorders and how they affect Colorado.

This will be the first of six meetings scheduled this summer for the Opioid and Other Substance Use Disorders Interim Study Committee, which was formed at the request of Rep. Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood, who will be chairwoman of the committee.

Pettersen said she requested the committee after seeing her mother, Stacy Pettersen, battle with various substance addictions for decades.

"I had no idea how broken our system was until seeing my mom, after 29 years of being addicted to opioids, begging for help," she said.

After her mother's most recent hospitalization for an overdose, Pettersen realized that while there was an emergency medical system in place to combat overdoses there was a lack of adequate support services to deal with the underlying cause of addiction.

Sen. Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs and vice chairman of the committee, said the broad scope of the committee will allow lawmakers to analyze the scale of the opioid crisis and identify potential remedies.

This will include looking at research in the field, what is currently being done by Colorado and how states, counties and private organizations have approached the issue.

"Everybody has their own opinion on how to approach it and some of them are probably good ideas, but it's been a growing problem," Lambert said.

At the end of the summer, the committee will draft up to six bills based on its findings to combat the issue.

Between 2002 and 2014, drug overdose deaths in Colorado increased by 68 percent, reaching a high of 899 in 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Nationally, the number of opioid overdoses has quadrupled since 1999, reaching a high of 33,091 in 2015.

"Nationally, we're losing this battle," Lambert said. "I mean, people are dying."

These numbers have received national attention and prompted government intervention at multiple levels.

Last month, state Attorney General Cynthia Coffman announced her office was joining a bipartisan coalition investigating the role drug manufacturers play in the opioid crisis.

Pettersen said Coffman's actions show that this is not a partisan issue but one that requires all parties come fix.

She added that this could be difficult based on the amount of lobbying already happening on this subjects from different special interests.

"It's alarming being a Legislator and seeing how difficult it is to do the right thing because of the amount of money going into it," Pettersen said.

Pettersen said it is the moral and financial responsibility of the Colorado Legislature because of the cost of emergency services and loss of employees.

"Doing nothing is unacceptable," she said


Focus areas

The purpose of the Opioid and Other Substance Use Disorders Interim Study Committee will be to educate lawmakers on the scope and impact of opioid addiction in Colorado and to create legislation to curb the issue.

Two issues of particular interest are the impact of prescription opioid medication on future abuse and overdose and the price of emergency medicines used to counteract overdoses, such as Naloxone, commonly known as Narcan.

'I'm concerned that some of the kits, for almost mandatory sale to our government emergency responders, are being inflated beyond what is reasonable,' said Sen. Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs.

A study published last year by the

New England Journal of Medicine

identified price increases by several manufacturers, including Evzio, a drug manufacturer that increased the price of a two-pack auto injector from $690 in 2014, to $4,500 in 2016.

The connection between marijuana usage and other substance abuse will also be scrutinized.

'There's still a lot of us who believe that, but it's sort of politically not acceptable anymore,' he said.

Lambert said he doesn't know if there is a connection between legalization of pot and opioid addiction, but he would like additional information.

Experts do not connect marijuana use to opioid addiction and some actually point to it being a replacement for addictive pain medication.

A 2014 study led by

John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

found that states with legalized medical marijuana have up to 25 percent fewer opioid overdose cases.

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