DENVER — Advocates across the country are hoping for change when it comes to preventing overdose deaths.
"This is a public health emergency that demands a public health approach. Doubling down on the worst ideas of the drug war, which are incarceration and criminalization, has never worked. That will only increase overdose deaths," said Lisa Raville, executive director of the Harm Reduction Action Center in Denver.
The center held a community outreach event where resources and training were given out. There was also a memorial to remember those who lost their lives to overdoses.
According to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, nearly 1,800 Coloradans have died of a drug overdose since 2022.
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Standing outside of Swedish Medical Center, the same hospital that saved her mom's life, US Representative Brittany Pettersen shared her story.
"My mom hurt her back like so many people. She went home with bottles upon bottles of opioids. I was just 6 years old. After her back recovered, my mom found herself wildly addicted to a medication," Pettersen said of the beginning of her mother's decades-long struggle with addiction.
Pettersen described, like so many other patients, her mother's prescription eventually being cut off. Her mother's addiction forced her to turn to heroin.
"When you're cut off access to your prescription and you're addicted, and you don't have access to treatment, you will do anything to avoid withdrawal," explained Pettersen. "My mom said that she feared withdrawal more than she feared death. That is a common theme for people who have a substance use disorder, which is a brain disease."
She introduced the Hospitals As Naloxone Distribution Sites (HANDS) Act to avoid overdose deaths and help limit the financial burden for patients.
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Naloxone, commonly known as Narcan, is a life-saving drug that reverses the effects of an opioid overdose. Across the country, there have been many restrictions on sending patients home with it.
"You just don't want to give antibiotics to everyone because suddenly we'll have resistant bugs. Or let's say chemotherapy drugs. Sure, we should tightly regulate those. But Naloxone has only one purpose and has very little side effects. This is not a drug that we should shackle," said Dr. Don Stader, emergency room doctor and executive director of The Naloxone Project.
Rules at the state level have been loosened, but the HANDS Act aims to take that concept to the national level.
The HANDS Act would also require Medicare, Medicade and TRICARE to cover the hospital's cost to give the drug to high-risk patients when they are discharged.
The final text of the bill is expected to be ready on Monday, but Pettersen said she's hopeful it will get bipartisan support.