By Ellis Arnold (December 22, 2017)
When state Rep. Brittany Pettersen was a child, her day started with finding and hiding her mother’s keys, pouring out her alcohol and pills, and then going to school. She’d get home, and she’d do it all over again.
“It took me probably, maybe being 9 years old, to recognize that my mom was very different from most parents,” said Pettersen, a Democrat representing the Lakewood area.
She was concerned about her mom, but she didn’t know what to do.
Her after-school routine grew to include checking to see whether her mom was breathing.
Pettersen’s mom, Stacy, had an opioid addiction from the time she was about 33. After being overprescribed for her back pain, she developed a dependency that escalated to heroin use when another doctor cut her prescription. After several recent trips to the ER from overdosing, she finally asked for help — the words Pettersen said she waited 29 years to hear.
She was far from alone in her fears. Colorado saw 108 opioid-related deaths — involving prescription drugs, heroin or both — in 1999, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment.
In 2016, in that same category, the state saw a death count of 504.
Now, Colorado legislators are putting forth six bills to make sure opioid substance abuse doesn’t progress that far. Spearheaded by Pettersen, the Opioid and Other Substance Use Disorders Interim Study Committee aims to tackle the problem from all sides: in the medical world, the law-enforcement field, the health-care industry and — perhaps most directly — where people inject drugs.