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One man’s quest to battle Aspen-area opioid crisis

Jeff Teaford wants to share his success story with addicts

 

Jeff Teaford poses for a photograph in the Treehouse in Snowmass Village on Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020.

Longtime Roaring Fork Valley resident Jeff Teaford believes he’s got the right stuff to help people addicted to opioids — he himself was addicted to painkillers for 12 years while battling chronic pain.

Teaford, 58, said he conquered his addiction to Vicodin four years ago. With the help of recovery professionals, he now is sharing his story and messages of hope with those facing similar struggles.

Helping others, he said, is a way of healing himself.



“I believe I can do this based on my story,” Teaford said. “I believe in this so much that I need to make it happen. Whatever I do, it needs to matter.”

Teaford had scoliosis as a child and went through corrective surgery on his spine in the 1960s that he labeled barbaric compared to modern procedures. It left his back shaped like a canoe, he said.



Jeff Teaford presses his hand against the left side of his back to show the atrophied area where Scoliosis affected him and lead him to an opioid addiction.

He’s been active as an adult. As a ski instructor he got used to a cycle: aggravate his back, get a 10-day prescription for painkillers, return to the slopes too soon, repeat.

He said he averaged two or three Vicodins per day, sometimes more when the injury was fresh. He didn’t have any trouble keeping a prescription filled. Doctors took a look at his back and could see he needed help.

“People who start out with legitimate uses, as opposed to recreational, they cover up so much stuff for so long,” Teaford said. “Now they’ve got pain in their neck, their shoulders and this Vicodin seems like it covers it up. I think that’s why people just seem to stay on it. It seems harmless enough.”

He also learned that Vicodin took the edge off reality, the highs as well as the lows. Of course, it dulled the pain.

“When I would take Vicodin, I would realize I still had the pain, I just didn’t care anymore if it hurt or whatever. That’s what Vicodin did for me. Everything was just the same.”

After 12 years he realized he needed to make changes, for the sake of his family and himself. He stressed that he is not a professional so he doesn’t want to offer medical advice. He quit cold turkey, which isn’t necessarily safe for everyone. While it was not easy, he was determined. Once he was off painkillers, he was enlightened.

“It’s exactly like coming out of a fog,” Teaford said. “I think part of the reason that people get stuck on it is this fog is like a state of mind where you’re lost. It’s the ultimate lost to me. That ‘lost’ is the fog.

“Once you come out of it, the first realization is you can’t believe you were like that for that long,” he continued. “How did you keep a job? How did you stay married? How do your kids even want to talk to you anymore?”

At about the same time he was battling his addiction, he learned he had diabetes. He adopted a lifestyle overhaul that featured a better diet, hydration and intense exercise that provided a natural painkiller. He also learned that aspirin was enough to help him deal with the pain “99.99 percent” of the time. He avoided narcotics when aspirin didn’t work.

On his journey to get clean, Teaford started sharing his story with medical professionals. One, in particular, urged him to reach out to people leading opioid treatment efforts in the Roaring Fork Valley. Teaford was introduced to Jarid Rollins, project director of the Community Opioid Treatment Strategy Project, a nonprofit started by Midvalley Family Practice in Basalt. The nonprofit’s goal is to plan opioid prevention, treatment and recovery from Aspen to Glenwood Springs. It didn’t create new bureaucracy. It’s finding ways to get more resources for existing groups to help with the mission.

IF YOU NEED HELP

Mind Springs Health

Patient hotline: 970.201.4299

Mindspringshealth.org

Midvalley Family Practice

Community Opioid Treatment Strategy Project

Patient line: 970-927-4666

Midvalleyfamilypractice.org

A Way Out

Email: director@awayout.org

awayout.org

Aspen Hope Center

Patient hotline: 970-925-5858

ourhopecenter.org

Aspen Strong Foundation

aspenstrong.org

Colorado Crisis Services

Patient hotline: 844-493-8255

coloradocrisisservices.org/substance-abuse/

Rollins invited Teaford to attend a group session for addicts. “Before I knew it, I was a little part of the program,” Teaford said.

He listened to other patients, eventually shared his story and believes his words resonated with at least two of the six other attendees.

“I’ve been told by a couple of people that I really helped them,” he said.

Rollins said it is important to get people who have gained the upper hand in their addiction to speak to those in the thick of the battle. He said Teaford’s story is particularly valuable for people who became addicted to opioids while getting treated for chronic pain. An extremely high percentage of valley residents are taking painkillers as a result of injuries from their active lifestyles, he said.

Teaford also attended a meeting of professionals discussing strategy for prevention and treatment. He shared his story and that led to an introduction to Maggie Seldeen, a peer recovery coach for Mind Springs Health in the Roaring Fork Valley.

Like Rollins, she said Teaford can play a valuable role in helping others struggling with addiction. There is a stigma about addiction to drugs and alcohol as well as treatment for addictions. It’s important for people to hear success stories from peers. She likes how he mixes humor and seriousness to convey his message.

“We really believe in the power of storytelling,” she said.

Teaford will be exposed to a broader audience Monday on Carbondale public radio station KDNK’s public affairs program “Chemical World.” Seldeen and her friend Kenna Crampton will interview Teaford for the show and an accompanying podcast. The radio show will air Monday at 4:30 p.m.

Seldeen said she has read excerpts of a book Teaford is writing about his life and found herself alternating between laughing and crying.

“I think it’s very relatable,” she said of his story.

Rollins, Seldeen and Teaford all believe opioid addiction is a growing concern in the Roaring Fork Valley, as it is in most of the country.

“The COVID epidemic has certainly overshadowed the opioid epidemic,” Rollins said.

But out of sight, opioid issues are raging. There were 17 overdose deaths in Pitkin, Eagle and Garfield counties in 2019, pre-pandemic, according to Rollins.

Teaford believes the magnitude of the addiction problem will become clear after the pandemic subsides.

“I think people are probably self-medicating pretty hard right now,” he said. I think this message is going to matter more than ever very soon.”

A key to Teaford’s recovery was avoiding a blame game and focusing on getting better.

“The first thing that needs to be done in order for someone to even start down the road is forget about the manufacturer being at fault,” he said. “They are making drugs to make money and help people. Forget about and let off the hook the doctors. These guys are just doing their jobs, for the most part. Third, you have to let yourself off the hook.

“There is a common thread, I believe, where you blame yourself — if you were just a little stronger, if you weren’t so weak, you could do this,” he continued. “That was what worked for me. I just decided it was nobody’s fault. It just was.”

He also believes intense exercise can be therapeutic. He hopes to start a “recovery gym” in the valley. It is a concept that has caught on elsewhere.

“You get through an addiction, you’ve got someplace you can literally go work out to the point of discomfort so you’re producing your own painkillers within your own body,” he said.

Teaford has resided in the Roaring Fork Valley for 25 years. He lives in Rifle and works in building maintenance for Aspen Skiing Co. in Snowmass Village after retiring as a ski pro. He credited Skico officials and his family with being incredibly supportive of him in his struggles. Now he sees it as his time to shine in helping others.

“It would be great if I could be a Tony Robbins because there are hundreds of thousands of people if not more that need to hear it,” he said, referring to the self-improvement guru and motivational speaker. “If I could just get people excited about understanding, about a guy that figured it out.”

scondon@aspentimes.com

 


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