Garfield County opioid, meth issue priority for Commissioner Tom Jankovsky in 3rd term

Matthew Bennett
Glenwood Springs Post Independent
Garfield County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky answers questions during the Oct. 10 Issues and Answers candidates' forum at Glenwood Springs City Hall.
Chelsea Self/Glenwood Springs Post Independent

Last week, Garfield County voters re-elected County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky to serve a third term in office, during which Jankovsky has pledged to combat the opioid and methamphetamine issue.

It’s a larger issue that has not only plagued the country and Colorado as a whole, but has also taken a fatal toll on Garfield County.

“If it is going to be addressed, it has to be addressed locally,” Jankovsky said following his re-election. “I thought with an improving economy that this issue might decrease, but it has not. It has actually increased.”

The Republican commissioner from Glenwood Springs was re-elected with 52 percent of the countywide vote over Democratic challenger Paula Stepp in balloting that concluded Nov. 6.

Jankovsky, who sits on the county’s Human Services Commission, speaking frankly said he was not entirely sure what role he could play as it pertained to working on the opioid and methamphetamine crisis, but he emphasized education and partnering with other agencies.

According to Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario, for many years in Garfield County methamphetamine has been the drug of choice among users, and remains so. However, opioids, both through prescription abuse and via street drugs like heroine, has increased.

“One of the challenges we have had in Garfield County is the lack of a detox facility,” said Vallario, who also easily won re-election over write-in challenger Paramroop Khalsa.

“We have not had one in years, so the opportunity for immediate and continued care is lacking,” Vallario said of the lack of a detox facility.

While numerous funding structures for such a facility have been modeled before, according to Vallario, no agreement between the necessary entities like local government and area hospitals has been reached.

“It is frustrating, because other communities have great success with funding a detox, but not us,” he added. “That is clearly an area where the BOCC [Board of County Commissioners] and partners can work to improve the opioid issue.”

Jankovsky described how, while sitting on the Human Services Commission, he has seen firsthand the groups that work on the back end of the issue, such as A Way Out. The nonprofit organization based in Western Colorado, among other services, provides free substance-use disorder and mental health assessments.

“How do we get on the front end of this?” Jankovsky asks. “Law Enforcement is a different perspective, but they are taking care of the issue kind of on the back end, as well.

“How can we get into a more preventative situation, and I do not have the answer to that other than … more education,” Jankovsky added. “It is a new initiative, a new direction for me, but I plan on working with the groups and being at meetings and, from there, there will be some solutions.”

A licensed addiction counselor, Oyen Hoffman has treated substance abuse disorders for 17 years and for the last three has served as a substance abuse treatment supervisor for Mountain Family Health Centers.

“Per Capita, the Roaring Fork Valley averages about the same as the rest of the country when we think about opioid use disorders and overdose deaths from opioid use,” Hoffman said. “In the state of Colorado, we have the equivalent of two fully loaded jumbo jets crashing every year, killing everybody on board.”

Hoffman adds, “We know that substance use disorders are the highest potentially avoidable costs in health care, so if they wanted to save money they would want to invest in treating substance use disorders, across the board, and if we are talking about opioid-use disorders, we would want to use something called MAT [Medication-Assisted Treatment]. … It is the gold standard for treating opioid use disorders today.”

MAT uses a variety of medications to replace street opiates.

“Ninety percent of people on MAT stop their IV drug use. So we prevent the overdose deaths and we also prevent the health complications that come along with street heroin use,” Hoffman added.

When asked how local government could help fight the issue of opioid and methamphetamine addiction, Hoffman stated, “It is all of the above. … The economy idea is great, but a job does not treat a disease like addiction. Only treatment treats a disease like addiction.

“Going to jail does not treat the disease of addiction,” Hoffman also said. “These folks are not bad. Bad behavior usually comes with the addiction, and if we treat the addiction the way we know how to treat it, the bad behavior usually goes away.”

Sheriff Vallario added, “We all work together within our respective areas of responsibility to address this problem to improve our community.”

That’s a sentiment Jankovsky shares and has pledged to hone in on in his third term.

“It is a commitment on my part,” Jankovsky said.