April 14, 2022 – A bill moves through Colorado’s legislature to tighten penalties on the possession and distribution of fentanyl, experts note the complexities and hardships of addiction.

Coreen Brade, the Colorado program assistant for the nonprofit Young People in Recovery, said that often, drug users self-medicate to deal with traumas within their lives. She said it can be a root cause of addiction.

“We don’t self-medicate for enjoyment, so to speak. We self-medicate to escape,” she said. 

With drug use comes shame, she said, and that creates a cycle. It starts with using drugs, experiencing an overdose, feeling too shameful to receive help, attempting to withdraw alone, and then ultimately, staying on the same path of using drugs. 

How does she know? She was a drug user herself. 

“I just made a choice and stopped, and it was evident,” she said. “I got pneumonia, and I was put in the hospital.” 

Lisa Raville, executive director of the Harm Reduction Action Center in Denver, said withdrawal from opiates is 1,000 times more painful than the flu, which makes detoxing alone extremely difficult and keeps people from quitting drugs once their bodies becomes dependent on the drug. 

Criminalizing the drug reinforces the cycle and contributes to the shame. Once someone is convicted of a felony, attaining housing or finding a job suddenly becomes very difficult, Raville said. 

“There’s a lot of people that can go to a bar, have a beverage and move on with their day. That’s totally possible to have managed use with fentanyl, heroin, meth or cocaine,” she said. “It’s completely possible, but because we’ve never had a good conversation about drug use in the United States, a lot of people fall for that ‘one hit, you’re addicted’ kind of stuff. Every time we have a beer, we know it’s a safe supply.” 


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