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'My Mom Inspired Me': Bills Finalized To Fight Opioid Epidemic

By Kelly Werthmann

DENVER (CBS4) - The committees aimed at combating the opioid crisis in Colorado met Tuesday to discuss a number of upcoming legislative bills.

Perhaps no one takes more joy in addressing the epidemic than State Rep. Brittany Pettersen of Lakewood.

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"We really came together in a bipartisan way to begin building the foundation in Colorado to address the opioid epidemic and the public health crisis we face today," Pettersen said. "It's my mom who inspired me to do this work."

No one is more proud to see Brittany at work than her mother, Stacy Pettersen.

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"It's just amazing to watch her," Stacy told CBS4's Kelly Werthmann with a smile.

Tuesday marked the first time Stacy saw her daughter serve as chairwoman of the legislative Opioid and Other Substance Use Disorders Interim Study Committee.

It's work that has special meaning to the Pettersen family.

"My mom became addicted to opioids when I was six years old," Brittany explained. "The doctors prescribed her opioids for a back issue and that was the day I lost my mom."

"I craved it," Stacy said. "I could not be without it."

The addiction began when doctors stopped prescribing Stacy opioids, pills she had taken for years. When she no longer could get the drugs she craved, she turned to a neighbor.

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"She sold heroin and taught me how to inject it under my skin," Stacy said. "And I became addicted to that for years."

Stacy said she isolated herself from her family when she began using heroin because it would be too painful for them.

However, she reached a point not too long ago when frightening overdoses nearly took her life. Thankfully her children stepped in to help.

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"I am so grateful they love me enough to get the help," she said.

Brittany and her siblings managed to find treatment to save their mother's life. In the process, Brittany realized how difficult that journey can be for others.

"I didn't realize how broken our system was until she was begging for help," Brittany said. "There were really no options for her or anyone in her position. Far too often these are the people who don't have a voice, who are often left behind."

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That is precisely why Brittany and other legislators on the committee are working together to create change in Colorado.

They've put together a six-bill package aimed at preventing addiction, early intervention when possible, and providing help to those seeking it get the help they need.

Brittany said she is proud of her fellow lawmakers for their bipartisan support on an issue that affects so many.

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"Everybody knows somebody. For me, it's my mom," Brittany said. "But this affects all of us in some way."

And if anyone believes Brittany can turn these bills into law, it's her mom.

"I am so proud of her. She's advocated for me and now thousands and thousands of others," Stacy said. "She's going to make big differences."

More information from Colorado House Democrats:

Tuesday's votes put the six bills into the pipeline for consideration during the 2018 legislative session. Included are bills to:

·        Create training programs for health professionals, law enforcement, and at-risk communities for safe opioid prescribing, medication assisted treatment, and overdose prevention.

·        Limit most opioid prescriptions to a seven-day supply for acute conditions and mandate that medical professionals check the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program database before writing prescription refills.

·        Create a pilot project for a supervised injection facility in Denver. Like needle-exchange programs, data show that SIFs do not increase the use of illicit drugs, but do reduce the spread of diseases like HIV and hepatitis C while increasing referrals to medical and/or substance abuse treatment.

·        Expand the Colorado Health Service Corps program, which includes loan repayment and scholarship programs for medical professionals who commit to working in underserved areas where substance abuse is more likely to go untreated.

·        Significantly increasing access to residential treatment to qualifying individuals with substance use disorders.

·        Improve "prior authorization" standards to ensure that insurance companies and Medicaid give timely approval for medication-assisted treatment so patients with substance use disorders don't go back to opioids while waiting for approval to begin their treatment. The bill also makes sure pharmacists are able to administer certain kinds of medication-assisted treatments and reduces copays for physical therapy, acupuncture and chiropractic alternatives to narcotics.

Kelly Werthmann joined the CBS4 team as the morning reporter in 2012. After serving as weekend morning anchor, Kelly is now Covering Colorado First for CBS4 News at 10. Connect with Kelly on Facebook or follow her on Twitter @KellyCBS4.

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