Annie Lindgren

North Forty News

According to the CDC, more than 750,000 people have died since 1999 from a drug overdose. In 2018, two out of three overdose deaths involved opioids. Deaths involving synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl, have gone up 10% since 2013. On average, 128 people die a day from an opioid overdose. Medication-Assisted Treatment is offering lifesaving solutions.

Opioids come in a variety of forms, obtained both legally and illegally. Prescription opioids are medications prescribed for severe pain, such as Hydrocodone, Oxycodone, and Methadone. Heroin is an opioid drug made from morphine, a natural substance taken from an opium plant’s seed pod. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid pain reliever, typically used for advanced cancer pain, 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine.

Fentanyl can be manufactured illegally and has grown in popularity due to its heroin-like effects. It is often mixed with heroin and cocaine and found laced in methamphetamine, ecstasy, and counterfeit pills. It increases the potency making it difficult for the user to know how much they are taking in. Many have died unaware they were consuming fentanyl.

Once hooked on opioids, it is hard to go off them. The body becomes addicted to these drugs that interact with the brain’s pain and emotion centers, making withdrawals painful and miserable, often requiring medical intervention.

The good news is there are lifesaving options, from medications that help people get off the drug to a nasal spray that can save the life of someone who has accidentally overdosed.

The Colorado Opioid Synergy for Larimer and Weld counties (CO-SLAW) has a network of clinics that offer medication-assisted treatment and counseling services. They not only help with lifesaving medication, but they also help reduce barriers to recovery, such as transportation and housing.

Opioids affect the part of the brain that controls breathing, and when levels are too high, it causes breathing to stop. A person overdosed on opioids will seem very sleepy or unresponsive, with slow breathing or heartbeat. Their skin or lips turn blue, skin feels cold, and pupils will be tiny.

Naloxone, the active ingredient in Narcan, blocks the effect of opioids, countering the decreased breathing. Administered intravenously, injected into a muscle, or given via nasal spray, it causes the person to resume breathing. Narcan is safe, cannot be abused, and has no effect on people who are not taking opioids. The nasal spray is often now included in CPR kits.

Narcan nasal spray is purchasable at a pharmacy without a prescription. It is affordable and covered by some insurances. You can get Narcan for free through CO-SLAW, through SummitStone Health Partners, or you can even have it delivered in the mail.

Opioid overdoses are often accidental. It can happen at home or at parties or gatherings. There are stories of overdosing friends abandoned as others feared getting in trouble. It is dangerous to mix opioids with other drugs, such as alcohol or benzodiazepines. Overdoses can occur when someone relapses after a long stretch of no drug use, not realizing their tolerance is not what it was when they last used. Awareness, education, and access to Narcan can save lives.

The help doesn’t stop there. Medications are also available to relieve symptoms of withdrawal for those who are going off opioids. Vivitrol is injectable, an opiate antagonist that lasts for 30 days and decreases cravings for opioids and alcohol. It binds to the opioid receptors preventing the high typically experienced. It is covered by Medicaid and often used to help those withdrawing in jail.

Suboxone is a medication that stops withdraws and cravings safely by supplying the body with the elements it is missing from the stopped use. It contains buprenorphine, an opioid medication, and Naloxone, which blocks the ‘high’ effects of abuse. Some people require long term use of this medication, while others use it to taper off of opioids slowly.

Opioid addiction is most often about more than drug abuse. There are underlying issues that led to substance abuse in the first place. Treatment programs include therapy and groups that help patients address the underlying issues and gain the support they need to be successful sober. Programs include help with other things that often accompany substance abuse, like housing and transportation barriers, lifeskill and job skills, and finding sober supports.

“Medication-Assisted Treatment is embedded in everything we do.  We utilize MAT in our outpatient, forensics, community-base, and acute services divisions, which treat individuals in almost every type of setting including schools and homes,” shares Kirsten Thom, Senior Program Manager, with SummitStone Health Partners, which provides services across Larimer County. “Anyone can come into our facilities and get trained on how to use Narcan. We provide free Narcan to help save lives.”

The Narcan kits through SummitStone and CO-SLAW include fentanyl test strips. These test strips help determine if the drug about to be used has fentanyl in it. This helps the user know if they should use a lesser amount, not use at all, or make sure Narcan is available if they take too much.

Not all opioid use is abuse. But, if you have opioids in your house or anyone experimenting with drugs, having Narcan on hand can save a life. If opioid addiction is a problem for you or someone you know, check out the resources below. Medication-Assisted Treatment is helping pave the road to freedom from opioid addiction.

Local Resources:

For free Narcan nasal spray and education, call CO-SLAW at 1-844-944-7529, or check out their website at

SummitStone Health Partners has substance abuse, mental health, and behavioral health programs and services throughout Larimer County. Call (970)-494-4200 to schedule an appointment. They are opening a new residential dual diagnosis treatment center for adults called Garcia House.

Turning Point Center for Youth and Family Development in Fort Collins offers residential Treatment for adolescents struggling with substance abuse issues. Call 970-221-0999 to find out more.

AspenRidge in Fort Collins offers substance abuse treatment for adults, including a residential program. Call 877-212-1238 for more information.