Editorial: Even in Colorado, we could all use more sunshine

Local governments, law enforcement agencies, school districts and other taxpayer-funded entities are sharing more information than ever with the public, thanks to the internet.

Want information on a road closure? Try Twitter.

Want to know what upcoming events are planned at your child’s school? The school’s website is your ticket.

No doubt, that information is helpful. But make no mistake, what you find on the web is not an all-access pass.

Want to know the name of the finalists for school district superintendent? Well …

Or the name of the person arrested as the suspect in a local crime? Um …

It’s complicated.

Often, that information is made public, depending on the agency. Sometimes, it’s not — or at least not right away.

Colorado’s open-records law generally stipulates that information held by a public agency is available to the public. But there are exceptions to the law, as well as different interpretations of the law that can lead to gray areas.

While most agencies and entities follow both the letter and the spirit of the state’s open-records laws, there is room for improvement. With this being Sunshine Week — the annual nationwide celebration of access to public information that runs March 11-17 — we have put together a short wish list of what we would like to see in the Denver metro area.

• State law allows law enforcement agencies to withhold information that could jeopardize the public safety amid an ongoing investigation. That’s sound policy, in theory. But too often, “ongoing investigation” is used as a mantra, a way to keep from releasing anything but the smallest nuggets of information. We’re asking law enforcement to use this shield less frequently, only when public safety is truly at risk. Wouldn’t the public be better served to know more, not less?

• We would like all government entities to release a list of finalists for top positions. The Colorado Open Records Act mandates this for what it calls “executive” positions, such as city manager or school district superintendent. Last year, one of the state’s largest school districts skirted this rule by announcing a lone finalist for superintendent. At the very least, we feel that violated the spirit of the law. Members of the public deserve to know who is in consideration for positions paid for by their tax money.

• We’re calling for a greater diversity of voices from government entities. That means granting the media and members of the public easier and more access to leaders. In at least one of the towns we cover, the mayor has been anointed the sole spokesperson for the entire council. And we know of several government bodies that demand all requests for interviews with staff go through the official communications director, a needless step that can slow the reporting process. We believe the public would be better served to hear from a variety of voices, rather than a controlled, group message. Why not make it easier to achieve that?

• We would like to see more citizen involvement. Help us in our roles as watchdogs by asking questions of your elected leaders and by telling us when your voice is not being heard. The open-records law and the Sunshine Law, which regulates open meetings, are there for everyone. The Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition — a Denver-based nonpartisan group that promotes freedom of the press and open access to public records for all — is a great resource to learn more, including how to file an open-records request. Find out more at coloradofoic.org.

Sunshine Week arrived with a five-word slogan, one that we try to keep in mind year round.

“It’s your right to know.”

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Woman helps youths get grasp of life skills

Kids these days might be able to tackle calculus in school or score points on the field, but do they know how to write a check, change a tire or put together a resume?

Shannon Claton of Castle Rock says not enough of today’s young people feel confident in their skills outside the classroom.

Claton used to work in the food and beverage industry. When training employees in their late teens or early 20s, she says she began to see a pattern. Meetings might start with job training but often segued into other topics, such as how to rent an apartment, buy a car or get insurance.

“They didn’t know how,” Claton said about many of her younger employees. “That got me thinking, wait a minute, where’s the disconnect here? How do we fill this gap?”

So, Claton decided to try and build the bridge herself. She still works her full-time job as an office manager at a dental office, but on the weekends, she is now teaching life skills classes for teens and young adults who want to learn beyond what their traditional education offered.

Learnlife is an eight-week course of two-hour classes covering a slew of topics — from job interview dos and don’ts to personal finances to basic home maintenance. For now, the classes are free but capped at 10 students. Eventually, she hopes to teach the classes full-time and with her own facility. Until then she is running her program from her home.

On Feb. 24, Claton led a group of teenagers seated around her dining room table through their introduction to her course.

She explained what they could expect to learn but also asked the students what they wanted to cover. One by one they named topics such as social media etiquette, changing a tire, filing taxes, budgeting, understanding credit scores and improving interpersonal skills.

The skills are similar to what students could learn at school through a family and consumer sciences course, formerly called home economics. Family and consumer sciences covers topics including personal and family finance, food science, nutrition and consumer issues.

According to the American Association of Family & Consumer Sciences, the courses are still offered at schools in all 50 states, but often as an elective, and not without program setbacks.

The association reports a 2014 study conducted at Pittsburg (Kansas) State University found 50 percent of states say a shortage of highly qualified family and consumer sciences teachers is a concern. In addition to the teacher shortage, the study also found student enrollment in secondary family and consumer sciences had declined 38 percent in the last 10 years.

“They’re taught in school math, science, English, and that’s great,” Claton said. “There’s just a missing element.”

Listening in on Claton’s Feb. 24 class was her longtime friend, Leslie Soell, who enrolled her daughter Grace, 17, a senior at Conifer High School, in Claton’s course. Grace will be attending college at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix after she graduates. Soell said she first saw Learnlife as an opportunity for her daughter to learn about avoiding debt and budgeting before entering college.

“I thought it sounded perfect for Grace,” she said. “I think she’s going to benefit from everything that was mentioned.”

Claton said for young people preparing for college, or those just entering adulthood, knowing how to navigate life can be intimidating, particularly when they don’t feel confident in their skills needed outside of school.

She hopes to help change that. More information about Claton’s program and enrollment is available on her website, learnlife.co.

“My goal,” Claton said, “is that the kids become successfully independent.”

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School project stresses importance of ‘go bags’

Castle Rock Fire and Rescue personnel are well-versed in emergency preparedness, but on March 8 several members of the department including Fire Chief Art Morales gathered in a room at the agency’s headquarters to take survival tips from a local 12-year-old.

Zander Eaton, a sixth-grade student at South Ridge Elementary School in Castle Rock, an authorized International Baccalaureate (IB) school, had already presented his IB project researching how to prepare go bags to the approximate 500 students at his school. This time he’d brought his presentation to the fire department to share his project with the professionals.

“I’ve always been really into survival,” Eaton told his audience of firefighters when explaining why he picked this as his school project.

A go bag, or an emergency preparedness kit, is filled with supplies people would need should they be forced to evacuate their homes or become stranded without access to resources. Natural disasters such as tornados, wildfires and earthquakes are but a few examples of emergency situations where people would need a go bag.

The recommendation is to pack bags with enough supplies to support each member of the family or household for at least 72 hours and to keep the bags near the home’s front door or in the car.

Key items include nonperishable food and clean water, but the kits should also come with other basics, such as flashlights, first aid kits, batteries and radios. Complete checklists for packing bags are available on sites such as ready.gov or redcross.org.

Eaton arrived at the fire station with a bright orange, pre-packed go bag he and his father found at Walmart, but he added additional supplies he thought would round out the kit like a collapsible water bowl for pets and antiseptic mouthwash.

His kit could support three people for three days, he said, and cost $101 to put together. Premade bags are available at stores for less, Eaton’s father, Jeremy, explained. When an audience member asked when people should prepare a go bag, Chief Morales answered.

“Today,” Morales said.

Eaton agreed — go bags can save a life, he said, and being prepared before an emergency occurs is important.

Assistant Chief Craig Rollins said the department hopes project’s like Eaton’s can help spread word through the community that emergency kits are a crucial household item.

“He can go out and be a voice to the community,” Rollins said. “Everything he added is a valuable tool.”

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Jaguars’ season ends in semifinals

Rock Canyon coach Kent Grams talked to his boys basketball team after the Jaguars’ 47-41 overtime semifinal loss to George Washington in the Class 5A state playoffs on March 9 at the Denver Coliseum.

Grams, however, doesn’t believe his comments had much of an immediate impact.

“It was a heck of a season,” said Grams. “I told our guys it hurts now and I can’t do anything about it. My words were just words to them.

“It won’t mean anything to them until later, but I couldn’t be more proud of them. You see our fans and what the basketball team has built.”

Rock Canyon ended the season with a 24-3 record after a close semifinal loss for the second straight season.

Last year Eaglecrest’s Josh Walton missed the first of two free throws with 0.8 seconds to play but swished the second to give the Raptors a 61-60 overtime victory.

It was almost the same situation when George Washington’s Devon Jones couldn’t connect on the first of two free throws with 1.6 seconds remaining in regulation with Rock Canyon holding a 36-35 lead.

Jones made the second free throw to send the game into overtime and the Patriots went 9-for-10 at the free throw line in the extra session to pull out the victory. George Washington was 16-of-24 from the free throw line compared to 6-of-9 for the Jaguars.

“There was a big discrepancy there,” said Grams. “They did a good job of sitting back in our zone and we couldn’t attack the rim. They had a rim protector and they did a good job of making us take poor shots.”

Neither team shot well. George Washington shot 31.8 percent from the floor for the game and made just two field goals in the final 12 minutes of the game. The winners were 14-of-18 at the foul line during the fourth quarter and overtime.

Rock Canyon shot 33.3 percent and had seven shots blocked.

“We had a hard time of getting Sam Masten going and Tyson (Gilbert),” added Grams. “In the second half I knew our guy were going to compete.”

Masten, the 6-foot-3 senior who was one of the state’s top 5A scorers with a 22.5 average, finished with 12 points and six rebounds. Gilbert, a 6-2 senior who missed part of the third quarter after undergoing concussion protocol, led Rock Canyon with 17 points and had six rebounds.

“It was weird ,” Grams said. “Tyson was getting evaluated for a concussion at halftime. But it happened so late we really didn’t know what was going on. And then he didn’t show up at the start of the third quarter. Sam asked me, ‘Where’s Tyson?’ I said, ‘I have no idea.’ But he came back and was OK.”

Gilbert scored Rock Canyon’s last six points in the fourth quarter and two in overtime.

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Capitol report: Supervised-injection proposal stopped in Senate; DA asked to examine harassment claims

A party-line 3-2 vote in a state Senate committee, with Republicans in the majority, stopped a proposal to allow one Colorado area to create a supervised-injection facility — where people with substance-use disorders can safely inject drugs — on Feb. 14.

Previously, the proposal was to allow Denver specifically to create the facility. No other place in the United States has such a site, according to the Colorado Legislative Council staff, but there are around 100 of them in 66 cities among nine countries, according to committee member state Sen. Cheri Jahn, independent from Wheat Ridge. San Francisco and Philadelphia this year have moved closer to establishing such facilities.

Health professionals would have overseen the facility, making sure to reverse overdoses if they happen, said state Rep. Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood, in November. They’d also have been able to refer people to resources to address their substance-use disorders.

But Republicans were skeptical of the bill, which was part of a package of six proposals aimed at addressing the opioid crisis that were up for consideration this session.

Another of the bills, SB 18-022, aims to limit the amount of opioid medication a health-care practitioner can prescribe. The Senate on a bipartisan vote passed that bill, authored by Republican state Sen. Jack Tate of Centennial, on Feb. 22, according to a news release. It then proceeded to the House.

For initial prescriptions for situations like getting a tooth pulled, a surgery or other short-term issues, prescriptions would be limited to a seven-day supply for the first prescription for a person who has not been prescribed opioids in the last 12 months, the release said. Individuals with chronic or long-term conditions would be among the exceptions.

The bill would require practitioners to access the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, or PDMP, before prescribing the first refill prescription for an opioid, except under some cases. The PDMP collects information submitted by pharmacies about prescribing and dispensing medications, and about patients.

Denver DA balks at request

In a twist the Legislature’s process gave no sign of foreshadowing, state Senate President Kevin Grantham urged Denver District Attorney Beth McCann on March 1 to open investigations into recent sexual-harassment claims against lawmakers.

The DA’s office responded on March 2 that it does not have jurisdiction to “investigate or enforce civil matters or workplace policies.” McCann said the office is not initiating an investigation based on Grantham’s letter.

Criminal sexual misconduct should be criminally investigated “apart from the separate authority” of the Legislature to investigate claims of misconduct on its own, the DA’s letter said.

Grantham, R-Cañon City, responded March 6 in a letter citing laws and court cases he said enable the DA to open investigations without victims requesting them through police. McCann responded in yet another letter March 8 reiterating her earlier points that her office would investigate claims if accusers go through the standard police process and that the Legislature has its own authority to dole out discipline.

State Senate Minority Leader Lucia Guzman, D-Denver, argued in a statement that Republicans are dismissing the Legislature’s independent investigations as invalid for political gain.

Former state Rep. Steve Lebsock of Thornton was expelled March 2 by the House in the first expulsion of a House member since 1915. Sens. Jack Tate, Randy Baumgardner and Larry Crowder have all faced accusations in recent months.

Concealed-carry conversation abounds

After the February school shooting in Parkland, Florida, a push to allow concealed carrying of firearms in Colorado schools was stopped in the House in committee on a 6-3 party-line vote Feb. 21 with Democrats in the majority.

But a bill that would allow law-abiding people the right of concealed carry without a permit — but not on school grounds — is still alive. Senate Bill 18-097, sponsored by Republican state Sen. Tim Neville of Jefferson County, was introduced Jan. 22 and passed the GOP-majority Senate on a party-line 18-17 vote on March 8. It now moves to the Democrat-controlled House.

“The idea behind constitutional carry is that you should be able to carry a concealed handgun without applying for government permission,” Neville said, according to a news release.

Keeping health-care costs honest

A bill to increase price transparency for free-standing emergency departments — which patients often confuse with urgent-care facilities only to be charged emergency-room fees that can cost hundreds and even thousands of dollars more — passed the Senate March 5.

SB 18-146 requires FSEDs — which are sometimes operated by hospitals at separate, off-campus locations or run independently of a hospital system — to provide individuals with information on cost of treatment, the individual’s right to reject treatment and the ability to ask questions about options and costs.

The proposal would require that information to be explained by a staff member or health-care provider orally and would include that the facility is an emergency-medical facility, that it’s not an urgent-care center or primary-care provider if it doesn’t include an urgent-care clinic at its location and that it will treat a person regardless of their ability to pay.

The bill also requires locations that don’t have urgent-care centers to post a sign that says, “This is an emergency medical facility that treats emergency medical conditions.”

After determining that a patient does not have an emergency-medical condition or after treatment has been provided to stabilize such a condition, the facility must provide information on whether it accepts programs like Medicaid, what health-insurance provider networks and carriers the facility participates with and the price information for the 25 most common services it offers.

The bill proceeded to the House.

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Valor comes up short in championship hockey game

Luke Wheeler looked anxious on the Valor Christian bench during the Eagles’ state championship hockey game against Regis Jesuit on March 6 at the Pepsi Center.

Wheeler was wearing his helmet but he also had donned a suit and tie, and his arm was in a sling. The state’s leading scorer suffered a dislocated shoulder in the closing minutes of the Eagles’ 4-0 semifinal victory over Monarch.

He was forced to watch from behind the players’ bench as undefeated Regis blanked the Eagles, 2-0, in the state championship game played in front of a crowd of 3,561.

“Having the state’s leading scorer out of our lineup was obviously a challenge that we failed to overcome,” said Valor coach George Gwozdecky.

Wheeler, the senior team captain who resides in Golden, looked a little like a young coach standing behind the players in the Valor bench area during the game and he definitely sounded like a coach after the contest.

“There is always disappointment, but we had the best year our program’s ever had and we are proud of where we went,” said Wheeler, who had 30 goals and 26 assists for 56 points in the season. “It wasn’t our worst game but it wasn’t our best game. There were things we could have done better but so could have Regis. There were just a couple mistakes they capitalized on.

“We are not done. We are going to nationals and hoping we can do pretty good there. I’m not 100 percent sure if I will be able to play. I’ve heard all kinds of stuff from two weeks to eight weeks and everything in between.”

Valor finished the season with a 20-3-0 record and the state runner-up trophy.

“Although the outcome was disappointing, it was a great experience for our team, the Valor hockey program and high school hockey,” said Gwozdecky. “I am assuming the announced attendance was an all-time high for a state championship game, which is more evidence that high school hockey continues to grow.

“We will take a week off to heal bruises, decompress and then begin preparing for the USA Hockey High School National Championships.”

Valor earned the invitation to play in the national championships that will be held March 22-26 in Minneapolis by topping Regis, 6-5, in the Colorado Prep Hockey League championship game last fall.

In the CHSAA title game, Valor’s special teams didn’t fare well and the Regis defense limited the Eagles to a season-low 11 shots on goal. Regis finished with 16 shots on goal.

The Eagles were awarded the first power play of the game in the first period, but Connor Kilkenny of Regis scored on a shorthanded breakaway at 12:16 before Valor had a chance to set up its power play. Then at 6:20 of the second period, Kale Lone gave Regis a 2-0 lead with a power play goal.

Regis ended the season at 23-0-0 and the school’s fifth state championship. Valor has gone 46-16-2 in the past three seasons under Gwozdecky, the former University of Denver coach.

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Colorado lawmakers take opposition to sanctuary cities to White House

Four Colorado Republican lawmakers on March 8 brought their ideas to the White House on punishing so-called sanctuary cities, hoping to build on the Trump administration’s lawsuit challenging California laws it says protect immigrants in the country illegally.

State Rep. Dave Williams, R-Colorado Springs, said he was going to suggest holding individual cities and their policymakers personally liable during a meeting with the White House Domestic Policy Council. Williams says he hopes U.S. Attorney Jeff Sessions follows up on the California lawsuit this week with similar legal actions against municipalities.

“These sanctuary communities and politicians are willfully endangering the public,” Williams said ahead of the meeting. “Cities like Denver and states like California are allowing criminal aliens to run loose, to kill, murder, maim or hurt our fellow Americans.”

He said he also would call for more immigration agents in Colorado. It was not clear if lawmakers from other states were attending the White House meeting.

Williams was joined in Washington by Reps. Kevin Van Winkle, of Highlands Ranch; Steve Humphrey, of Weld County; and Tim Leonard, of Evergreen.

The Democratic mayor of Denver has limited cooperation with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Police policy is to notify ICE when immigrants in city jails are to be released, but they refuse to grant access to jail cells. Mayor Michael Hancock and other officials have criticized the presence of ICE agents in courthouses and raids near public schools.

The Trump administration last year threatened to withhold federal funding for police programs in Denver and other sanctuary cities. A federal judge permanently blocked the effort after a lawsuit.

But that didn’t stop President Donald Trump from calling for Congress to pass legislation that would strip funding from localities that don’t cooperate with federal immigration authorities.

“They want the money, they should give up on the sanctuary cites. It harbors horrible criminals,” he said March 8 at a White House Cabinet meeting.

Trump also lambasted Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf for recently warning the public about an unannounced raid by federal immigration officers. Sessions said in a speech in California on March 7 that Schaaf’s action allowed hundreds of “wanted criminals” to avoid arrest.

“What the mayor of Oakland did the other day was a disgrace,” Trump said. “And it’s certainly something that we’re looking at with respect to her individually.”

Williams, the Colorado lawmaker who is of Hispanic heritage, has introduced state legislation to make city and law enforcement officials liable for crimes committed by immigrants in the U.S. illegally.

The measure would allow the victims of such crimes to seek damages from “officials of the jurisdiction who were responsible for creating the policy to operate as a sanctuary jurisdiction.” Officials could face up to $700,000 in civil damages.

Democrats and others challenge the legality of Williams’ proposal — much like California Gov. Jerry Brown, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and others nationwide did in reaction to the Sessions’ lawsuit.

Brown says the state is on firm legal ground with laws that limit police and employers’ cooperation with federal immigration agents and require state inspections of federal detention facilities.

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Annual road maintenance begins in April. Open house set for March 27

Preventative roadwork keeps our streets safe and extends the life of our infrastructure. This year, more than 95 lane miles of pavement in Founders Village and Castlewood Ranch will be maintained through the Town’s Pavement Maintenance Program. Some work is expected to start in early April.

In all, the Town will invest $11 million in street maintenance this year. The funding is primarily from the Town’s Transportation Fund, which includes revenues from sales tax, motor vehicle tax and building use tax.

The Council-approved Pavement Maintenance Program concentrates residential road maintenance to one of five defined residential areas each year on a rotating basis. Additionally, primary and Downtown streets receive repairs as needed. The goal is to increase efficiency, reduce costs and minimize disruption to neighborhoods.

This year, the residential focus is on the east area of Town, which includes Founders Village and Castlewood Ranch. Council approved the work contracts Tuesday.

Work planned for Founders Village, Castlewood Ranch
Roadwork will include slurry seal and crack seal, concrete restoration, and overlays. The pavement on Lantern Trail and Wagonwheel Trail be reconstructed this year. Turnstone Avenue and Tabor Drive will also get major work.

An open house for residents in this area will be held from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 27, at The Ridge House, 4501 Enderud Blvd.

Each year, main roads are also addressed. Work is scheduled along Prairie Hawk Drive, Plum Creek Boulevard, Woodlands Boulevard, and along Wilcox Street. Crews will also work along Meadows Boulevard after the reconstruction of Meadows Parkway is completed. (Learn about that project at CRgov.com/MeadowsParkway.)  

Resident communication
Work is expected to start in early April and wrap up by August. Of course, weather in Colorado is a factor, and schedules could change. Residents and businesses directly impacted by the work will receive mailings detailing the projects, as well as notices on their doors shortly before the work begins.

Next year, the Town plans to concentrate residential roadwork in the western region of Town, which includes portions of The Meadows and Red Hawk.

Find out when your area is due for maintenance, learn more about the program and sign up for email updates at CRgov.com/PMP.

Questions? Contact Public Works, 303-814-6414 or roads@CRgov.com.

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Arenado aims to keep relentless schedule for Rockies

Nolan Arenado chuckled at the idea of ever taking the field every day for the Colorado Rockies and playing all 162 games.

In theory, it’s possible. The reality of being the third baseman for the Rockies is something else.

“I played 160 one year. That was way too hard in Denver,” he said.

Still, Arenado is bucking a trend while developing into one of the premier players in the National League. Rather than making sure he’s getting days of rest built into his schedule, Arenado almost refuses to step out of the lineup. Arenado has played at least 157 games in each of the past three seasons. Only two position players league-wide — Eric Hosmer and Joey Votto — have played more games than the 476 total regular-season games for Arenado during those three seasons.

It’s a point of pride for the Rockies’ young star, who turns 27 next month and finished fourth in the MVP voting last season. And he’s doing it playing half the season at elevation, where it’s more difficult for the body to fully recover.

“You look around the league, you shouldn’t have guys leading the league in at-bats or games played who play in Denver. It shouldn’t happen,” Colorado outfielder Charlie Blackmon said.

It’s hard to be better than Arenado was in 2017. He had a career-best .309 batting average. He reached the 130 RBIs plateau for the third straight season and clubbed another 37 home runs. His OPS was also a career-best .959. If anything, what Arenado accomplished in 2017 validated his previous two seasons when he burst on the scene with back-to-back 40 home run seasons for the Rockies.

Over the past three seasons, Arenado is hitting a combined .297 with 120 home runs and 393 RBIs.

During this three-year run, Arenado has figured out how to keep himself in the lineup. He learned from watching former teammates Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez, the latter of whom he said recently he would like to see back in Colorado this season, and how they prepped for the season. Arenado figured out sitting in the ice bath wouldn’t be enough and added additional recovery methods — massage, acupuncture — to his routine.

“I’m a big believer that if you’re on the field long enough the numbers will be there in the end,” Arenado said. “I just try and focus on taking care of myself and being ready to go every day. I never like days off. I have a guilty conscience, to be honest with you. I feel guilty when I take days and stuff like that. I never want to. When I take a day I feel guilty I’m letting someone down and I don’t want to be doing that.”

While Arenado may feel guilty about sitting a day, Colorado manager Bud Black said the fatigue is something his staff watches closely.

“He’s proven the durability and he’s sort of built to play,” Black said. “Some players are truly built to play and wired mentally to handle that. He’s one of those players. Do we keep an eye on all our guys? Absolutely, especially where we play. But he’s shown that ability to stay fresh, to stay in a good spot physically and mentally to play every day so I think the continued usage will probably be very similar to what it’s been.”

One of the ways Arenado stays fresh is his affinity for Wiffle ball. Arenado plays it regularly with his family in Southern California during the offseason. He’s even special-ordered bats from the manufacturer that he uses for the family games.

Arenado joked that maybe in his next contract — he’s due to be a free agent after the 2019 season — he may put in a request for a Wiffle ball field at his house.

“You go back to your childhood a little bit. When we were kids that’s what we did. We still love it now to this day,” Arenado said. “It brings you back to home. That’s what we do when we’re home. It’s a routine we’ve always had. We play Wiffle ball with our boys. That’s what we do.”

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Study provides grounds to avoid using opioids for chronic pain

A yearlong study offers rigorous new evidence against using prescription opioids for chronic pain.

In patients with stubborn backaches or hip or knee arthritis, opioids worked no better than over-the-counter drugs or other nonopioids at reducing problems with walking or sleeping. And they provided slightly less pain relief.

Opioids tested included generic Vicodin, oxycodone or fentanyl patches, although few patients needed the most potent opioids. Nonopioids included generic Tylenol, ibuprofen and prescription pills for nerve or muscle pain. The study randomly assigned patients to take opioids or other painkillers. That’s the gold standard design for research.

If they don’t work better than less risky drugs, there’s no reason to use opioids given “their really nasty side effects — death and addiction,” said lead author Dr. Erin Krebs, a physician and researcher with the Minneapolis Veterans Affairs Health Care System.

The results likely will surprise many people “because opioids have this reputation as being really powerful painkillers, and that is not what we found,” Krebs said.

The results echo less rigorous studies and bolster guidelines against routine use of opioids for chronic pain.

The study was published March 6 in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

About 42,000 drug overdose deaths in the U.S. in 2016 involved opioids, including prescription painkillers, heroin and fentanyl. Many people get hooked while taking opioids prescribed for injuries or other short-term pain and move on to cheaper, more accessible illicit drugs like heroin.

A report released March 6 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found emergency rooms saw a big jump in overdoses from opioids last year. Opioid overdoses increased 30 percent late last summer, compared to the same three-month period in 2016. The biggest jumps were in the Midwest and in cities, but increases occurred nationwide. The report did not break down overdoses by type of opioid.

U.S. government guidelines in 2016 said opioids are not the preferred treatment for chronic pain, and they recommend non-drug treatment or nonopioid painkillers instead. Opioids should only be used if other methods don’t work for chronic pain, the guidelines recommend. Prescribing rates have declined slightly in recent years although they are still much higher than two decades ago.

Krebs said the strongest evidence from other studies shows that physical therapy, exercise or rehabilitation therapy works best for chronic pain. And she said noted that there are a variety of nonopioid drugs to try if one type doesn’t work.

The study involved 234 patients from Minneapolis-area VA clinics who were assigned to use generic versions of opioids or nonopioids for a year. Follow-up ended in 2016.

“This is a very important study,” said Dr. David Reuben, geriatrics chief at UCLA’s medical school. “It will likely change the approach to managing long-term back, hip and knee pain.”

He noted one limitation — most study participants were men, but Krebs said the results in women studied were similar.

The study’s opioid patients started on relatively low daily doses of morphine, oxycodone or generic Vicodin. They switched to higher doses if needed or to long-acting opioids or fentanyl patches. The nonopioid group started on acetaminophen, ibuprofen or similar anti-inflammatory drugs. They also could switch to higher doses or prescription nonopioid pain pills. Few in either group used the strongest medicines.

Patients reported changes in function or pain on questionnaires. Function scores improved in each group by about two points on an 11-point scale, where higher scores meant worse function. Both groups started out with average pain and function scores of about 5.5 points.

Pain intensity dropped about two points in the nonopioid group and slightly less in the opioid patients.

Other research has shown that over-the-counter medicines can also work as well as opioids at treating short-term pain, including from broken bones, kidney stones or dental work.

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