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A Rural Crisis: The Opioid Epidemic in the San Luis Valley

Written by Michael Booth, The Colorado Health Foundation

Amarah’s Story

There are some topics of conversation that, understandably, leave 15-year-old Amarah staring off into the distance, unable or unwilling to say more than the bare minimum.

Her mother’s addiction problems, for example, so sustained and severe that Amarah and her half-sister saw their toys sold for drug money. And her mother trading relationships for more drugs. And 16 different schools by fourth grade. These are the type of troubles that keep Amarah quiet today.

But there are topics that brighten Amarah’s eyes, and elevate her voice into movie-ready voice-overs. She has created worlds upon worlds, in her mind and in her notebooks, drawing entire casts of anime-style anthropomorphic characters playing out moral crises that she herself couldn’t control in her younger years.

One of Amarah’s worlds is rated “E for Everyone,” she says. It’s populated by cheerfully drawn animals in human clothing, such as Chippie the mischievous chipmunk, and characters with backgrounds reflecting her own life experiences. Lately, she’s also launched a darker “other” world, with violence and, well, reality.

As part of a family severely afflicted by addiction, Amarah is adamant about the need to create and populate both of her imaginary “worlds.”

“I’d say my stories are the conversation of me telling what I’ve been through,” Amarah said.

An Opioid Epidemic Unraveling in the San Luis Valley

The story others wrote for Amarah – that of a child searching for a safe space to grow, learn and play – gets repeated over and over in the San Luis Valley these days. Like other parts of Colorado, from Denver’s urban corridors to the southeast plains, the San Luis Valley has been hit hard (PDF) by the last decade’s uptick of opioid pill prescriptions and cheap supplies of highly addictive heroin. Read Story.