Addressing Colorado’s Substance Abuse Crisis

(May 3) – Bills by Reps. Brittany Pettersen and Daneya Esgar to address Colorado’s opioid and substance abuse crisis passed the House on third reading this morning.

“This represents a bold and innovative effort to directly tackle some of the very serious challenges of opioid addiction, specifically in southeastern Colorado,” said Rep. Esgar, D-Pueblo. “We account for just six percent of the state’s population but 18 percent of the admissions for heroin treatment. It’s a real epidemic and this bill allows us to learn about real solutions—how we can use medication-assisted treatment to improve outcomes and combat the addiction of opioids.”

Sponsored by Rep. Esgar, SB17-074 creates a medication-assisted treatment pilot program for opioid-dependent patients in Pueblo and Routt counties, which have experienced a particularly high number of heroin overdoses. The bill passed 39-22 and now heads back to the Senate for consideration of House amendments.

Sponsored by Rep. Pettersen, D-Lakewood, SB17-193 creates a research center for substance abuse and addiction prevention strategies and treatment at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center. The center will expand research programs concerning prevention, abuse, addiction and treatment for opioids, controlled substances and alcohol. The bill passed with a 43-20 vote and now heads to the Gov. John Hickenlooper.

“Our state and nation are facing a health crisis and it is imperative we take action to support people who are suffering from this disease,” said Rep. Pettersen, whose mother has suffered from addiction. “For far too long, these people have been disregarded because of the stigma associated with addiction. But after years of overprescribing, a large portion of the population is addicted to pain pills. Everyone knows someone who is affected, and inaction is not an option.”

Another bill sponsored by Rep. Pettersen, HB17-1351, passed on second reading on Tuesday. The bill directs the Department of Health Care Policy and Financing to study the feasibility of providing residential and inpatient substance use disorder treatment as a part of the state’s Medicaid program. Currently, the program only offers emergency treatment for four days, but does not provide treatment for patients who wish to enter recovery. The bill continues to a third reading by the House.

“When my mom finally was ready to seek treatment for her addiction, we found that there are few options available,” said Rep. Pettersen. “It’s time to switch from our current system of depending on emergency care and move to what actually helps people get on a path toward recovery: inpatient treatment, which also happens to be the cheapest option for our state.”

An additional opioid-related bill by Rep. Pettersen, HB17-1350, allows a pharmacist to dispense a prescription for a schedule II opioid in smaller increments if requested by a patient or the practitioner who wrote the prescription. The bill passed the House unanimously and is now awaiting a hearing in the Senate.







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