Fort Collins native Colter Broadwell recalls the grasp that heroin had on him after trying it for the first time at the age of 16. He had experimented with marijuana and other opioid pills before, …
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Fort Collins native Colter Broadwell recalls the grasp that heroin had on him after trying it for the first time at the age of 16.
He had experimented with marijuana and other opioid pills before, but heroin held on to him tighter and ultimately resulted in what he now describes as “a slow decline to oblivion.”
Now three years sober, Broadwell shared his experience with a group of community members Aug. 28 at the Overdose Awareness Day observance held at the 84 th Avenue Neighborhood Health Center.
Broadwell was one of three former users that spoke at the event, along with local elected officials, treatment specialists and law enforcement.
The event, hosted by community partners including Tri-County Overdose Prevention Partnership and Community Reach Center, focused on raising awareness about the opioid crisis and the stigma surrounding addiction and overdose.
“When people think about drug addiction they think of a bad person when the reality is that it’s all of us,” Broadwell said. “Addiction doesn’t discriminate.”
As a teenager, Broadwell experimented with drugs and alcohol as an escape from the emotional trauma he was experiencing. After his first use, heroin became his drug of choice. Throughout high school he balanced his addiction and schoolwork, graduating with a 3.9 GPA, 20 college credits under his belt and an acceptance letter to the engineering school at Colorado State University.
With the promise of college ahead of him, Broadwell decided to stop using heroin. That was until a relapse halfway through his freshman year sent him back to the comfort of the drug.
Over the following months, his struggle continued. Looking for treatment he began taking suboxone, a prescription used to reduce a person’s urge to use opioids. Despite his efforts, his addiction surged on.
“I thought the suboxone was going to fix me, but what I didn’t realize was that I had a disease and taking another substance wasn’t going to solve that, I had to work on myself,” Broadwell said. “While I was taking the suboxone I was still heavily addicted to drugs, I was smoking crack, I was drinking a lot and my life was still completely and totally unmanageable.”
He was eventually kicked out of CSU and days later overdosed for the first time. He overdosed three more times over the next several months. The last time, he woke up to his mother sitting next to him in the hospital.
“The expression on my mom’s face still sticks with me today, it was like she was preparing for me to die,” he said.
Addiction stigma is something Broadwell says restricts users from coming forward and receiving treatment. For him, it took a support system of loved ones and people with similar experiences to him to move past the stigma and find recovery.
“I was able to go to group meetings where people were the same as me, they had the same stories as me, they used like me and that allowed me to feel like I wasn’t alone,” Broadwell said.
David Foltz, another former user that spoke at the event, agreed with Broadwell saying that connection is especially important in recovery and without his support system he wouldn’t be alive today.
“We’re always looking for a blanket solution to the opioid crisis, one solution that is going to save millions of lives, but instead I think what can make a difference are the small decisions and actions we make every day,” Foltz said.
Douglas County Commissioner Lora Thomas said actions that the community can take to prevent overdose are encouraging others to discard their unused prescriptions at drug disposal locations, learning how to recognize the signs and symptoms of a drug overdose and knowing what to do when someone overdoses.
One way people can be prepared to handle an overdose is by being educated and able to administer Narcan, a medication used to prevent opioid overdose in an emergency.
Jerry Peters, Deputy Chief at the Thornton Police Department, said his department has saved 34 lives since officers started carrying Narcan four years ago.
While local police and medical professionals are prepared to prevent and combat overdose, Foltz said it’s important for everyone to be engaged in their community and educated on and understanding of addiction because “every life is worth saving.”
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