Annie Cutter is kind of your typical high-functioning Colorado Springs professional. The native of the city is a sales executive for medical devices with Medtronic and has been in the medical field for over 20 years. I caught up with her last week after a long day assisting with surgeries.
“It was a crazy day in the OR today,” she told me.
She also told me about another pretty typical piece of her life in Colorado Springs: That her son has suffered with addiction since he was 14. He has been to rehab seven times.
“Addiction does run in his genes, and he has a personality that I believe is prone to addiction,” she told me. “His drug of choice is heroin, but he has had problems with all drugs and alcohol. He has been involved in all aspects of the ‘drug world.’ ”
Annie’s son really isn’t that unusual. Nationwide, an estimated 11.8 million people misused opioids in 2016, including 11.5 million pain reliever misusers and 948,000 heroin users, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. The number of people in treatment for heroin addiction in Colorado has increased more than 128 percent since 2011. Recent statistics show that statewide, 67,000 who want and need substance abuse treatment can’t access it.
Annie’s son is sober and working with a sponsor and with Alcoholics Anonymous and Heroin Anonymous.
That’s good news, but it doesn’t mean the impact of his addiction is over. A relapse is always a possibility, and Annie, the sole parent/person involved in his recovery, makes the point that one addiction can have wide ripples.
“This disease affects everyone who loves the addict,” she said.
Though addiction isn’t uncommon, the effort necessary to support and see someone through such battles requires uncommon and extraordinary resourcefulness. Annie has attended countless family therapy sessions and workshops at her son’s rehab centers, and she participates in Al-Anon and private therapy sessions.
Addiction is a familywide affliction, in other words. “My daughter and I do suffer from PTSD due to the stress and struggles with loving an addict but, I believe if I had not done my work through Al-Anon and therapy I would not have been able to help my son or understand this disease.”
Help for the helpers. That’s the thinking behind the Gazette and KKTV’s Community Conversation on Sept. 25 on the subject of opioids and addiction at 6 p.m. at Studio Bee in the Pikes Peak Center, 190 S. Cascade Avenue. Annie will be one of the panelists who will walk us through what we can all do, as a community and as individuals, to dampen and lessen the aftershocks of opioids and addiction.
Annie will be joined by:
• José Esquibel, associate director, Colorado Consortium for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus
• Cathy Plush, founder and executive director of Springs Recovery Connection
• Amanda Smith, substance use disorder director for AspenPointe
• Nathaniel Granger, Jr., PsyD, founder & director of Be REAL Ministries
You can submit your questions for the panelists ahead of time at Gazette.com/opioidscc
We’ll also ask audience members to submit questions in writing when they arrive. KKTV’S Don Ward will moderate the conversation, and KKTV will livestream the event on their website, as will we. UCHealth is our sponsor.
The main question this forum hopes to take on is: What solutions, tools, and resources are out there for us as a community, and as individuals, to use to fight back against this opioid epidemic and addiction crisis in our state?
Yes, Colorado has one of the worst drug problems of any state in the country, recent studies show.
Colorado’s drug fatalities passed 1,000 in 2017 for the first time — hundreds more deaths than the state’s traffic death toll for the year.
And most of those deaths can blamed on opioids — prescription painkillers and their illicit cousin, heroin.
Here’s the worst part — many people who became addicted had help from the people who were supposed to be easing their pain.
Makers of many name-brand prescription painkillers now face a reckoning for sponsoring and distributing “misleading studies claiming that prescription opioids were effective long-term treatments for chronic pain, and they ignored expert warnings about the dangers of opioids,” according to Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser.
The news that Purdue Pharma reached a settlement deal last week over its alleged role in the nation’s opioid crisis isn’t winning any favor with Weiser, though.
Purdue Pharma reached a settlement with officials in 27 states that would strip the Sackler family, which owns the company, of its control, allow the company to go into bankruptcy, and convert it to a nonprofit trust. The settlement also includes up to $12 billion, including money from the Sacklers.
If accepted, the settlement would resolve hundreds of lawsuits around the nation, including Colorado’s.
But Weiser — and officials in 16 other states — have rejected the settlement, saying the damage is too deep.
In a statement last week, Weiser said “Colorado has not agreed to any settlement with Purdue Pharma or the Sackler Family. No current offer adequately addresses the harm that Purdue and the Sacklers have caused to communities and individuals in Colorado by contributing to the opioid crisis. We will continue to work hard to hold them accountable and obtain an appropriate settlement or judgment to address the crisis.”
What can we do in the meantime?
Annie’s courage shows us a way: Be part of the conversation.