Opioid Crisis Is Too Familiar for Colorado Lawmaker

April 23, 2018

Colorado Rep. Brittany Pettersen said she watched her mother struggle with drug addiction for 30 years.

“I saw her going in and out of the ICU every week, at least,” Pettersen said in an interview Monday with Cheddar.

Her family's painful experience with addiction is helping inform Pettersen's efforts to combat the growing opioid epidemic in her state. Earlier this year, she introduced a bill in the Colorado legislature that would expand Medicaid plans in the state to include drug-abuse treatments.

“This is a public health crisis and it needs to be treated like that,” said Pettersen, a two-term Democrat.

Though her personal history with opioid addiction is long ー "as a family we have been preparing for my mom's death our entire lives," Pettersen recently told the LA Times ー she only recently grew comfortable confronting it publicly.

"I honestly never wanted to touch the issue of opioids because it was too personal," she said in the LA times interview. "I felt like if I can't help my mom how can I help anyone else?"

A recent analysis of overdose deaths in the United States by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that nearly 64,000 people died from drug overdoses in 2016 ー an increase of more than 21 percent. Almost two-thirds of those deaths involved a prescription opioid.

Last year, a handful of states, including Ohio and Mississippi, filed lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies alleging that they engaged in fraudulent marketing practices to promote prescription opioids.

Beyond holding pharmaceutical companies accountable, Pettersen said the U.S. needs more prevention and education programs, and better training for doctors on what to do when they realize their patients may have developed a problem. Sometimes, cutting off addicts cold-turkey can have harmful effects.

“Cutting my mom off from pills when you realized she had a problem set her up for heroin abuse,” Pettersen said on Cheddar. That's a familiar descent for many people suffering from opioid addiction.

She said her mother, Stacy, 63, has been clean for eight months.

“My mom is an example of what’s possible,” she said.

For the full interview, click here.