An Interview with Catherine Strode
State Senator Cheri Jahn and the other sponsors of Senate Bill 17-193 have accomplished getting money from the state during an extremely tight budget year. In a unanimous vote, the senate has appropriated $1 million in marijuana taxes to establish a research center with the University of Colorado Anschutz Center for the prevention and treatment of substance use disorders.
Colorado’s mortality rate in drug overdoses has increased by 500 per cent over the past three years. In an interview with Catherine Strode, State Senator Cheri Jahn says the state’s drug epidemic is ‘out of control’ and credits her Republican colleagues for the bill’s passage.
How do you feel about your success in obtaining the $1 million appropriation?
“I was so pleased. It’s out of the marijuana cash fund. I think this is awareness and education for the entire public. This is not just an individual substance use issue. This is a societal issue. Colorado is rating Number Two in the nation on addictions and opioid use, which then goes many times into heroin . This is a community issue that everyone has got to take a hold of. From law enforcement (they are very concerned about this) to the hospitals, to the treatment providers, to the families who have lived through this. This is definitely something that has become a societal issue.”
What role did your bipartisan relationships play?
“I said, ‘Who do I know that would help me get this money? Who cares deeply about this stuff?’ Senator Lundberg and I have carried many things together. I knew without a doubt that he would be all over this. I also knew Senator Neville would be all over this. I have conversations with them; I learn what they care about. I also had conversations with Sen Lambert who has shown great interest and concern about what is going on in this addiction world. On the other side I had to have someone who was going to take it through the House. Representative Pettersen has had to deal personally with this very issue. I said, ‘She deserves to carry this legislation and let it be part of her legacy for what she has personally been through, and seen, and lived.’ That is how I put this (legislation) together.”
How will the money be used?
“The million actually will help the Colorado Consortium for Prescription Drug Abuse continue the preventative work they are doing. The seed money will keep the Consortium going and will help them to expand. They are educating dentists. They are trying to get more places where people can drop off medications that have not been used. We are trying to get all of the pharmacies to have a drop off box. We think the police departments and the fire departments should do it. Of the people who become addicted, 72 per cent of them start on the medications of friends or family. We have got to get those out of the medicine cabinets, out of the kitchen cabinets, and off of the nightstands. People get a hold of them and they become addicted.”
How will the program be sustained once the seed money is spent?
“We’re already out there meeting with people, looking at fundraisers and private donors we can bring in. There are only a couple of national research centers working on this particular issue of substance use disorders, prescription drugs, opioids, alcohol abuse. The goal of this Center is to be able to go nationwide. They have the contacts and the researchers to help us identify what are the best practices to work with these addictions, to end this epidemic. They have access to research information from other states and countries. By making it a national center that gets national recognition, we will be able to pull down money from the federal sources.”
You are known for business issues. Is this a new area of legislation for you to champion?
“It is not new. It’s interesting you say that, because that is exactly right. That is how people see me. I’m known for business and advocating for business because I’m a small business owner and huge on economic development. All of those things are very important to me. But if people truly look back at my record, the most passionate things I have carried have been for elders, for juveniles, for civil rights. Those are my real passions. I am passionate about this because it is killing people, by the thousands. It has gone out of control. It’s an issue I have committed to spending my last two years in the legislature on. I am working very hard getting all of the behavioral health folks, for mental health and for substance abuse disorders, to be using some of that marijuana cash fund (where this money is coming from.) They all supported this because they recognize the knowledge and help that can come out of this national center. You only have to live through addiction once with people you care a lot about. You realize you have to do something and you learn everything you can about the disease. That’s what I did. I promise you I will be continuing this effort long after I have left here.”
Catherine Strode is Advocacy Denver’s Policy Outreach Specialist. Formerly the Coordinator of the Health Care Advocacy Program, she holds a Masters degree in Public Administration with an emphasis in Health Care Policy. Catherine publishes Policy Perspective, featuring interviews with state policy makers on issues that affect the work and mission of Advocacy Denver.