Michael Miller knows what it means to overdose. He’s survived three of them after being revived by Narcan all three times. But he’s also known others who weren’t so lucky. “I have lost more …
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Michael Miller knows what it means to overdose. He’s survived three of them after being revived by Narcan all three times. But he’s also known others who weren’t so lucky.
“I have lost more friends then I have lost on two hands,” he said. “And a lot of them were very young when it happened.”
Back then, Miller and his friends didn’t have any way of getting products like Narcan and fentanyl test strips, which are used to test drugs for the presence of the opioid fentanyl, that is often put into other drugs.
But Miler thinks if they did, some of those he lost might still be alive.
Data shows that people are going to use drugs regardless of whether they have access to those tools or not, Miller said.
“So we have two options, we can either equip them with the tools they need to stay safe and ultimately enter recovery someday if they chose to,” said Miller. “Or, we can let them run the risk of passing away from a totally preventable death.”
In Jeffco, public health workers are increasingly opting to embrace the first option as they struggle to respond to an enduring fentanyl crisis that killed nearly 100 people in Jeffco last year.
Central to those efforts are two community coalitions that are working together to address the challenges faced by residents with fentanyl and other opioids.
The first, the Jeffco Substance Use Partnership, consists of various groups that are dedicated to “a community-driven response to the rise of overdose in Jeffco.
The second, Jeffco Communities That Care, is focused on using what it describes as a “structured, evidence-based community change process focused on preventing substance misuse, sexual/relationship violence and hopelessness/anxiety among youth in our community by reducing risk factors and improving protective factors.”
“First and foremost, we want to get the word out to folks that our department has found this deadly substance more and more in counterfeit pills and other illicit drugs, and people are dying when they use them,” said Sergeant Michelle Current, who works in the Lakewood Police Department and chairs a workgroup within the CTC. “It’s devastating, and we want to address this growing issue so that more lives are not lost.”
But while getting the word out is important, the members of coalitions have come to increasingly think they must also do more to get the lifesaving resources Miller and his friends once lacked into the hands of those who are using drugs in fentanyl.
That’s why they launched a new series of events aimed at providing young adults, who seem to be resistant to accessing materials like Narcan in the county public health office where they are already available, with a more and accessible venue at which to access them and information about how to use them.
“The collaboration between our two coalitions determined that the best way to get the materials into the hands of young people is really through other young people,” said Communities That Care Coordinator Pamela Gould.
On Oct. 23, Gould and Miller spent an hour in Lakewood’s O’Kane Park where they distributed Save-A-Life kits, which contain test strips, as well as Narcan.
The event was publicized on a JCPH Instagram paged aimed at young adults, although Gould said the ultimate hope is for those young adults (the event is targeted at those 18 and over) to get the word out through their own networks and then share the products they get with others who need them.
“As long as there is a need we will probably keep after it,” said Miller. “And it doesn’t look like overdoses are slowing down, especially in the Lakewood area, so these resources are badly needed.”
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