Recovering Opioid Addict Testifies For Coloradans ‘Left Behind’

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By Shaun Boyd

DENVER (CBS4) – A Colorado state lawmaker’s mother gives powerful testimony about the cost of opioid addiction as her daughter introduces legislation aimed at saving the lives of those addicted.

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Rep. Brittany Petterson (R) and her mother Stacy Petterson (L) (credit: CBS)

“I went from being a dedicated, loving mother of four with a career to someone who’s life became focused on feeding an addiction at the expense of everyone else,” Stacy Pettersen told a House committee on Tuesday.

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Stacy Petterson (credit: Petterson family)

Her daughter, Rep. Brittany Pettersen, has a package of bills aimed at addressing everything from overprescribing, to access to affordable treatment, and prevention and intervention in kids and families.

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One of the bills would help with education and prevention in kids, provide training for health care professionals and $750,000 in grants for school based health centers.

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“This is in high schools in highly affected areas. So, it’s the ability to have those health professionals who are going to be able to recognize red flags and intervene and give them the help that they need before it moves toward the direction it unfortunately is going to go,” said Pettersen.

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Ned Breslin, CEO of the Tennyson Center for Kids, which helps children who’ve experienced severe abuse, neglect and trauma, says 14 children are entering the child welfare system every day in Colorado, largely because of their parent’s opioid addiction.

“We are seeing huge impact of opioid epidemic on kids,” said Breslin.

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He says the epidemic has contributed to an 80 percent increase in the number of kids removed from their homes in Colorado in the last two years.

“We’re seeing really significant effects of physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse and neglect coming through these children,” he said.

Doctors and pharmacists told lawmakers the lack of affordable treatment is driving the crisis. They say nine out of 10 addicts who want treatment aren’t able to access or afford it.

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Another bill by Rep. Chris Kennedy would require insurers to cover drugs to help mitigate withdrawal without making addicts wait for authorization.

“If you hear from the addicts I hear from, they fear withdrawal more than death. And if you’re telling a person they have to wait five days before they’re able to start on these treatments, what do you think they’re going to do over those next five days?” Kennedy asked.

His bill would also allow pharmacists to administer the drugs.

Stacy Pettersen says she’s one of the lucky ones.

“I am an example of what’s possible when you give people who are struggling with addiction the support they need when they’re ready to do the difficult work. I wanted to be here today to tell my story face to face because the barriers to treatment are impossible to overcome and most people don’t have a state representative as their daughter advocating for them,” she said. “I’m here to give a voice to thousands of Coloradans who have been left behind.”

Shaun Boyd is CBS4’s political specialist. She’s a veteran reporter with more than 25 years of experience. Follow her on Twitter @cbs4shaun.

denver.cbslocal.com