Governor signs bills to address opioid harm reduction and improve substance use disorder treatment 

Denver, CO — Today during a virtual bill signing Governor Jared Polis signed three bills to support Coloradans affected by opioid addictions and other substance use disorders into law. The bills will address harm reduction practices and enhance access to treatment for substance use disorders, including within the criminal justice system. 

SB20-007, sponsored by Representatives Bri Buentello and Jim Wilson, requires insurance carriers to provide coverage for the treatment of a substance use disorder (SUD) in accordance with the American Society of Addiction Medicine or other evidence-based guidelines. It also encourages access to medical or SUD treatment services, including recovery services, to people participating in prescribed medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for a SUD and prohibits courts, probation or community corrections from prohibiting MAT as a condition of participation or placement. Finally, it authorizes the Insurance Commissioner to ensure that insurance carriers’ formularies include medications for MAT and coverage for opioid antagonists, such as naloxone (Narcan). 

“The opioid crisis was already a serious public health issue, and the pandemic has only made matters worse for our communities,” said Rep. Buentello, D-Pueblo. “This bill, and the larger opioid epidemic package we passed this year, will help get Coloradans who are working to overcome substance use disorders the treatment they need to break through. I’m proud of the work we did this year for Southern Colorado and other areas of our state that have been hit hard by this crisis.” 

HB20-1065, sponsored by Representatives Chris Kennedy and Leslie Herod, aims to lower the rate of opioid overdoses and related deaths and better prevent the spread of communicable diseases that can be associated with the injection of illicit opioids. It would protect people who act in good faith to respond to overdoses by administering an opiate antagonist, such as naloxone, that has expired. The bill would also require insurance plans to reimburse hospitals that provide opiate antagonists to counteract overdoses that often occur upon discharge. To help prevent communicable diseases, the bill would allow pharmacists to sell clean syringes and remove a regulatory barrier to operating syringe exchange programs. 

HB20-1017, also sponsored by Reps. Kennedy and Herod, seeks to support incarcerated individuals who suffer from a substance use disorder. The new law encourages the Department of Corrections (DOC), private contract prisons, local jails, and Department of Human Services (DHS) facilities to make available at least one opioid agonist and one opioid antagonist to a person in custody with an opioid use disorder throughout the duration of the person’s incarceration or commitment. It also allows a person to turn in any controlled substances at a safe station without being subject to arrest or prosecution, and requires those staffing safe stations to evaluate a person’s need for medical attention. Finally, it also requires correctional facility officials to provide post-release resources for inmates to help prepare inmates for release and reintegration into their communities and to give favor to inmates in record sealing requests to those that have completed a substance use disorder treatment program.

“Substance use disorder has ravaged and devastated our communities, and we have no time to waste in fighting back,” said Rep. Herod, D-Denver. “These bills will keep more Coloradans alive by focusing on harm reduction and access to treatment, including for incarcerated Coloradans. Currently, Colorado’s largest treatment facilities are our jails and prisons– this cannot stand. Our state can’t incarcerate addiction away. Instead, we must focus on treatment and providing needed support. These bills take important steps forward and will no doubt save lives, but a great deal of work remains to be done.”

Opioid use disorder is impacting communities across Colorado. The state recorded 543 opioid overdose deaths in 2018. Data tracking the number of pills dispensed per person shows that some Colorado counties have rates that are higher or at the same level as some of the hardest-hit states, such as West Virginia and Kentucky. A 2018 estimate from the White House Council of Economic Advisers found that the opioid epidemic has cost the US $2.5 trillion from 2015 to 2018.