On July 11, members of the Southeast Colorado Manufacturing Partnership gathered at Oliver Manufacturing Company for their latest monthly meeting. The partnership includes prominent manufacturers and community members in Southeast Colorado, and serves to educate locals and motivate them to explore careers in manufacturing.
At this month’s meeting, the Manufacturing Membership held a substantive conversation about grade school mentorships, vocational training and the growing opioid epidemic that’s battered communities large and small across the country. ”From jobs to drugs,” may seem like a wild leap in discussion, but high school job preparation and the nation-wide drug problem are intertwined in important ways.
According to a March 2017 report from Colorado’s Department of Health Care Policy & Financing, “In 2015, 259 people died in Colorado from prescription opioid overdoses – drugs like hydrocodone and oxycodone.” In 2016, prescription opioid deaths fell 6%; adversely, Colorado heroine deaths rose a startling 23% over the same time period.
RFPD Chief Mickey Bethel attended the meeting to provide his perspective on the opioid problem sweeping across Southeastern Colorado. He explains that in the cities such as Denver where there are more resources, special teams are dedicated to dealing solely with paraphernalia. They recover it from the streets, parks and other public places where it is a potential hazard.
While needle recovery is surely a needed service, it’s a reactionary response to the growing drug problem. And it doesn’t help partnership members with the issues they face now.
Recently, partnership members have struggled to find new hires that are capable of passing required drug screenings. Quasi-legal cannabis brings about issues of liability and legality, while opioids – prescription or otherwise – raise more severe complications. What can be done to stave local community dependence on prescription and non-prescription opioids? One thing is certain: members agreed that educating the youth – and thus, the future workforce – is an important measure to take.
Southeast Colorado Manufacturing Partnership is no stranger to the idea of educating communities. It’s raised $50,000 to get middle school physics courses into five school districts, and it’s conducted manufacturing tours for around 850 students every schoolyear since 2015. Now, members are discussing where to find – and how to fund – quality drug education.
Members aren’t sure if a return to a program such as D.A.R.E. is the correct approach, but they’re sure that early interactions between grade schoolers and local police will foster trust in law enforcement agencies and make drug education more impactful in the long run.
Danelle Berg, facilitator of the partnership; Alan Hill and Dave W. Hill of Falcon Industries; Brett McIntosh of Lewis Bolt & Nut; Janet Berg and Jörgen Salo of Debourgh Manufacturing; Jill Henderson of Coffee Holding Company; and Oliver Manufacturing’s own Joe Pentlicki, Criston Menz and Brian Burney.
In addition to private business members, public servants from the surrounding communities are on the board also:
Kim Grimsley, on behalf of Otero Junior College; Rick Lovato, Superintendent of East Otero School District; and Superintendent Kermit Snyder on behalf of the Rocky Ford School District.
Rocky Ford Chief of Police Mickey Bethel and Rachel Patrick of the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) also attended.