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The fight against fentanyl in rural Colorado

Challenges include stigma, access, and transportation
The fight against fentanyl in rural Colorado
Posted at 6:41 PM, Mar 29, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-29 20:47:43-04

FREMONT COUNTY, Colo. — For rural parts of Colorado, the fight against the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl can be especially challenging. When those struggling with addiction try to seek help, they could be faced with the stigma that comes in a small town, or a lack of access to providers and services.

However, there are people in the community who are deeply connected to recovery and working to bring more resources to the area.

Karissa Young has struggled with addiction for most of her life. At only 15 years old, she started using heroin. She has gotten sober a handful of times throughout her life, but when her biological father died by suicide last year, she relapsed.

"I was introduced to the fentanyl pills, and then I just kind of slowly stopped heroin and those became what I was doing," Young explained. “On a daily basis, I was doing up to 12 [pills] a day.”

Now, Young has been sober for a little more than a month.

“I struggle with bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, all that jazz, and it’s just been exacerbated," Young said. "And still, even right now, I want to numb it all."

Her young son is the reason she stays sober. She also lives with her mother, Stephanie, who is involved in the recovery community in Fremont County.

“This is her safe place. We are her safe place. We are her home, forever," said Stephanie. “Being educated about addiction and the brain and the fact that it is a disease, it is not a choice, is huge."

READ MORE: Fentanyl addiction: A future beyond the dark days

Stephanie works with Peer Empowered Recovery Community Solutions (PERCS) in Canon City. PERCS is a recovery community organization focusing on direct peer services to those in recovery or seeking recovery. The organization bridges the gap between people in recovery and the services they need.

“Just getting the services, such as detox, we don’t have any of those services here locally," said Brian Dierks, founder and CEO of PERCS. "So, what we end up doing is having to really dig deep and find the services in other counties and cities."

Dierks has also struggled with his own addiction, which is one of the reasons he started PERCS in 2020.

"What helping others does is it actually helps me," Dierks said. “One of our mottoes here at PERCS is recovering out loud, and we want to recover out loud so that we can break that stigma.”

Next door to PERCS is Front Range Clinic, a medication-assisted treatment center.

“Medicines that are available to us that we can hold down withdrawals and cravings and things like that, but that’s only one part of the picture," said Robin Bentley, a family nurse practitioner and addiction specialist with Front Range Clinic.

Bentley says Front Range Clinic partners with many community organizations in behavioral health to ensure the whole person is being treated.

"The opposite of that addiction and isolation is community," Bentley said.

It's something Young and her mother understand and hope others struggling with addiction can discover.

“If I can do it, anybody can do it," Young said.