Wednesday, July 24

The Crestone Eagle is a nonprofit monthly newspaper serving Crestone and the San Luis Valley

Fentanyl grips the San Luis Valley  

Understanding the crisis

By Kimberly Black.

The San Luis Valley faces a troubling reality as the rampant use of fentanyl, a potent synthetic opioid, has surged to alarming levels in recent years. As local healthcare providers, law enforcement and community organizations grapple with the escalating crisis, a multifaceted approach is emerging to combat addiction and provide support to those affected.   

“The fentanyl on the streets right now is 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine. Less than a grain of salt can be fatal,” reported Lindsey Renner, a nurse practitioner at San Luis Valley Behavioral Health Group. 

“Seventy-five percent of opioid users we encounter are consuming fentanyl and clients who overdose on fentanyl are harder to revive than those who use heroin or other opioids,” Renner added.

Originating primarily from clandestine labs in Mexico, fentanyl is often pressed into counterfeit pills resembling legitimate prescription opioids, making detection and prevention challenging for authorities. 

According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration website, Mexican drug cartels are primarily responsible for manufacturing fentanyl using ingredients sourced from China. It is smuggled into the U.S. and distributed through social media channels, criminal groups and individuals.   

A DEA public safety alert in 2021 announced that “these fake prescription pills are designed to appear nearly identical to Oxycontin®, Percocet®, Vicodin®, Adderall®, Xanax® and other medicines — and have been found in every state in the country.” 

Furthermore, the alert explained that cases involve drug traffickers using social media applications, including Snapchat, Facebook, Facebook Messenger, Instagram, TikTok and YouTube to distribute fentanyl and fentanyl-laced substances.

The district attorney’s office in Alamosa is responding to the crisis by enhancing law enforcement training, increasing prosecutions for drug distribution, targeting suppliers, disrupting supply chains and raising public awareness.  

Two people with over 850 fentanyl pills were arrested in Alamosa on March 12, 2024, and another arrest on February 29, 2024, involved 400 pills.

Healthcare providers in the Valley, such as the SLV Behavioral Health Group and Rio Grande Hospital, are witnessing the toll of fentanyl addiction firsthand. 

Renner, who works with the SLVBHG mobile Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) unit, travels to the more rural areas of the Valley and reports that Conejos and Costilla counties bear a disproportionate burden, with a large Hispanic population impacted by the epidemic.  

The mobile MAT unit treats clients with opioid or alcohol use disorder, offering Vivitrol and Suboxone, as well as Sublocade, a monthly injectable medication similar to Suboxone.

“The most common opioids we see are fentanyl and heroin, and occasional prescription opioids, such as Percocet and Oxycodone, that have been purchased off the street or prescribed,” said Robyn Hindes, an LPN with the mobile MAT unit.

Amidst the crisis, a collaborative response is underway to provide essential services and support to individuals struggling with addiction.

Dr. Ely Walker, a medical doctor board certified in addiction medicine, runs the Rio Grande Hospital Recovery Clinic. 

“The Recovery Clinic is a really unique opportunity within the San Luis Valley because it’s a specialty level clinic, with in-house wraparound services,” he said. It provides trauma-informed care for the treatment of many forms of addiction and includes in-house counselors and care coordinators. The clinic partners with San Luis Valley-based Center for Restorative Programs to bring a comprehensive approach to case management for unmet mental health needs, transportation support, housing, joblessness and emotional support.  

“When somebody has a need that I can’t meet as a prescriber, I bring the CRP intensive case manager into the room and we do a warm handoff with someone right there that can step in and help someone meet their needs. Medications alone are not the answer to any of these addiction issues,” Walker explained. 

The Recovery Clinic also partners with SLV AHEC which provides an on-site licensed childcare service for parents seeking care who have children 6 weeks to 5 years of age. 

Dr. Walker is also the medical director for Hope in the Valley, a new  medical detox facility in Alamosa.  Aiming to provide a compassionate and safe environment for individuals to undergo withdrawal and enter treatment, it is equipped with medical professionals and counselors, an onsite nurse 24 hours a day and the capacity to provide medications.

“It is intended to offload the local emergency rooms and provide a safe place to go through withdrawals and enter into treatment,” Walker said.  

Hope in the Valley represents a critical step in addressing the acute needs of those struggling with addiction.

As the community confronts the fentanyl crisis, there is a need for sustained efforts to address the root causes of addiction. 

“There’s incredibly strong data to show that the more trauma you have, the more likely you are to abuse substances,” Walker said. “From a prevention standpoint, if we wanted to do something as a society, it would be trying to process trauma so that it doesn’t affect people in this way.”

Walker emphasizes the need for comprehensive treatment approaches to address underlying issues fueling addiction. Trauma, both emotional and physical, emerges as a significant factor contributing to substance abuse, highlighting the importance of compassionate, trauma-informed care and trauma prevention programs in schools.

Naloxone distribution programs have been instrumental in saving lives throughout the Valley, enabling immediate response to overdose incidents. 

The Crestone Peace Patrol reported that members have received training in the administration of the opioid overdose medication Naloxone, also known as NarCan. “NarCan is very safe and can be used regardless of whether or not you think the issue is opioid related,” said Peace Patrol representatives. They explained that if you suspect someone has overdosed and you do not have Naloxone kits, call 911 immediately. “Peace Patrol can respond directly to a scene to help administer NarCan, but there should be no expectation that we will be first responders.” 

By raising awareness, mobilizing resources and fostering a culture of compassion, the San Luis Valley is working to confront the fentanyl epidemic and offer hope for the future.

SLVBHG Mobile MAT unit offers same-day walk-in services Monday-Thursday in Del Norte, South Fork, Center, Moffat, La Jara, Antonito, San Luis and Fort Garland. It offers medication treatment services at clinics in Alamosa, La Jara, Monte Vista and Del Norte, as well as therapy services at all clinics, and telehealth services. Fentanyl test kits are widely available on Amazon. 

The DEA has launched the public awareness campaign, “One Pill Can Kill,” to educate the public on dangers of counterfeit pills and how to keep Americans safe. 

For more information visit:  www.dea.gov/onepill. For more information on fake pills, visit the DEA Fake pills fact sheet at: www.dea.gov/sites/default/files/2023-11/DEA-OPCK_FactSheet_September_2023_0.pdf. 

For more information on drug emojis decoded for parents, educators, caregivers and friends that includes dealer signals and drug references, please visit: www.dea.gov/sites/default/files/2022-04/Emoji%20Decoded_FO%20One%20Page_v2.pdf. For a visual reference to aide in determining real vs fake pills, please visit the DEA website:  www.dea.gov/onepill/images.

Check out other tags:

Classifieds