Epidemiologists in the Colorado School of Public Health study demographic trends and social impacts in the hopes of helping individuals, families, communities and government officials come to grips with the rising opioid epidemic, which is hitting Colorado particularly hard. Ms. Lindsey Kato, takes the opioid epidemic personally — the Colorado School of Public Health (ColoradoSPH) alumna lost eight friends to heroin overdoses. As an MPH student at ColoradoSPH, Ms. Kato began working as the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s heroin strategies coordinator for her practicum experience. Her job helped bridge the public health and law enforcement communities, which in the past have not always seen eye-to-eye on how to deal with addiction. Ms. Kato’s responsibilities included collecting all the data about arrests for heroin or opioid possession and distribution that Colorado law enforcement agencies could provide. She also studied the progression from prescription medications to street drugs, leading a project that conducted surveys in nine Denver-area methadone clinics.
[Photo: Ms. Lindsey Kato]
To conduct the study, Ms. Kato and five ColoradoSPH students interviewed patients in nine methadone clinics around Denver. The team administered an in-person survey with 46 questions. They asked the clinics’ clients about their backgrounds and why they began using drugs. Ms. Kato also sought to find what recovering addicts thought about their treatment and what helps them stay sober. They conducted 713 surveys in 25 days.
Ms. Kato found that about half of the recovering patients had college educations, more than a third were employed, and the majority rented or owned homes. About 70 percent of the clients cited prescription pain medication use as one of the main reasons for transitioning to heroin.
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