- Associated Press - Thursday, July 16, 2015

DENVER (AP) - Blair Hubbard’s addiction to heroin began with the prescription painkillers she got after getting her wisdom teeth removed.

The 34-year-old Denver resident took more than the recommended dose once and she found that she liked the feeling she got.

“When my prescription ran out, I chased that feeling and that involved having to buy prescription pills on the street,” she said. Then she discovered that heroin was cheaper and stronger.

Hubbard shared her precautionary tale Thursday after a meeting in Denver between U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper to discuss the problem of prescription drug abuse and highlight the ways the state is addressing the issue.

Hickenlooper and Burwell met for about an hour at Denver Health Medical Center.

Burwell said federal guidelines for prescribing painkillers need to change, and she called for increased access to medication used to reverse overdoses. A Colorado law enacted this year increases access to that drug, Naloxone, making it easier for first responders and relatives of drug users to obtain.

Last year, Colorado passed a law to fund a program within state health department to establish places for people to dispose of their unused prescription drugs.

Colorado is also among 37 states with a Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, a database to help pharmacies spot when someone may be abusing a prescription. Burwell noted that unlike many other states, Colorado updates the database daily.

Drug overdoses are the leading cause of injury death in the country and Colorado. Officials say misuse of prescription drugs is a big contributor to that. In Colorado, 295 people died from overdosing on painkillers in 2013, according to the Colorado Consortium for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention. That’s almost double the number of people who died from car crashes involving drunk driving.

Nationally, there were 43,982 deaths from drug overdoses in 2013 and just over half involved prescription drugs, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“As a nation this is an issue that is a difficult one and people don’t realize the costs in terms of lives, costs in terms of health,” Burwell said, before introducing Hubbard to tell her story.

Hubbard said she sought treatment and she’s been clean for four years now and working on a master’s degree in counseling. She urged others dealing with addiction to not be afraid to seek help.

“I want them to know that number one, it is doable,” she said.

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Ivan Moreno is on Twitter: http://twitter.com/IvanJourno

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