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October 30, 2023

JOINT RELEASE: Opioid Committee Advances Bills to Save Lives and Prevent Overdose Deaths

Policies would increase prevention, treatment, harm reduction, and recovery efforts to address the opioid crisis

DENVER, CO - The Opioid and Other Substance Use Disorders Study Committee today advanced four bills to bolster prevention efforts, improve treatment programs, promote harm reduction strategies, and support Coloradans in recovery to prevent overdose deaths and save lives.

“Too many Coloradans are struggling with substance use disorders, and in many cases, dying of preventable overdoses,” said Chair Rep. Chris deGruy Kennedy, D-Lakewood, sponsor of Bills 2, 3, and 4. “Colorado has made remarkable progress on building a comprehensive response since this committee was established in 2017. I am proud that we have again risen to the challenge, engaging stakeholders over an intensive process to identify the next set of policy changes that are needed to turn the tide on this crisis and build a healthier, safer Colorado.”

"More than 1,500 of our neighbors died from a drug overdose here in Colorado last year, a heartbreaking number we must do more to reduce," said Senator Kyle Mullica, D-Thornton, sponsor of Bill 2. "We've worked hard this interim to develop a menu of options for tackling this crisis, including legislation I am sponsoring that will expand treatment options for folks struggling with substance use disorders. I am proud of the work we've done, and I look forward to helping more Coloradans get the help and support they need to get their lives back on track."

Bill 2, sponsored by Representatives Chris deGruy Kennedy and Ryan Armagost and Senators Kyle Mullica and Perry Will would expand treatment options for Coloradans with Substance Use Disorder (SUD). The bill:

  • Directs the Department of Health Care Policy and Financing to apply for Medicaid waivers to cover health care services for people in jail or prison and to cover a partial-hospitalization level of care in our communities;

  • Reduces insurance barriers to accessing substance use disorder treatment,

  • Expands the treatment workforce by increasing training opportunities for addiction counselors under qualified licensed professional counselors and licenses clinical social workers;

  • Authorizes pharmacists to diagnose opioid use disorders, prescribe medications, and make referrals to comprehensive treatment programs, creating new access points, especially in rural Colorado;

  • Supports rural treatment providers by creating a shared infrastructure for administrative functions and allowing them to compare their reimbursements with metro area providers and negotiate better contracts;

  • Creates a contingency management grant program, funding the best evidence-based practices to help people with stimulant use disorders stay sober;

  • Invests in criminal justice diversion programs to provide individuals charged with a minor offense a substance use treatment option; and

  • Studies additional barriers to treatment access, including inadequate insurance networks and federal regulations around methadone services.

"Addressing the overdose and substance use disorder crisis that impacts many Coloradans and their families requires us to dig deep and consider many approaches, especially data driven initiatives, and this prevention bill starts with doing a better job on the front end by preventing folks from getting hooked at all,” said Senator Sonya Jaquez Lewis, D-Longmont, sponsor of Bill 1. “These resources will empower community organizations and folks on the ground as they work to prevent substance use and abuse while connecting folks who are struggling with the treatment and support they need."

“The best way to protect Coloradans from developing substance use disorders is to promote proven prevention methods to stop people from using dangerous substances in the first place,” said Rep. Mary Young, D-Greeley, sponsor of Bill 1. “Our bill takes a multi-pronged approach at substance use prevention by funding grant programs that connect residents to community-based resources and establishing screening and treatment referrals within our schools and pediatric settings.”

Bill 1, sponsored by Senators Sonya Jaquez Lewis and Kevin Priola and Representatives Mary Young and Elisabeth Epps, would boost SUD prevention efforts. The bill:

  • Updates Colorado’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Program to improve data collection and access, support safer prescribing, and reduce misuse of prescription medication;

  • Funds community-based organizations to provide prevention services for  youth, families, and communities;

  • Establishes a grant program for substance use screening, brief intervention, and referral to treatment (SBIRT) to help identify youth who may need to seek treatment or resources;

  • Continues the statewide perinatal substance use data linkage project for experts to develop legislative recommendations on improving outcomes for families impacted by substance use during pregnancy; and

  • Launches a new data linkage project for opioid use disorders to better target investments to parts of Colorado with the greatest needs.

“Preventable overdoses are rising across our state; we need to take action now to save lives,” said Rep. Elisabeth Epps, D-Denver, sponsor of Bills 1 and 3. “Prevention and harm reduction efforts like those included in these bills are proven to reduce overdose deaths and improve public health. We’re working to fund community-based prevention organizations, interrupt the spread of communicable disease, improve community safety, and protect all our neighbors—including the front line direct services workers who provide support and care as they prevent and reverse drug overdoses.” 

“We have lost far too many Coloradans to accidental overdoses and substance use disorders. Something has to change,” said Senator Kevin Priola, D-Henderson, sponsor of Bills 1, 3 and 4. “We have worked hard to develop legislation that will result in meaningful harm reduction for people using substances, protect Coloradans stepping in to help those in crisis, and cultivate more supportive recovery programs to help Coloradans thrive. The bills we’re advancing today will save lives, and I’m optimistic about the progress we’ll make next session.”

Bill 3, sponsored by Representatives Chris deGruy Kennedy and Elisabeth Epps, and Senator Priola, focuses on harm reduction strategies. It would support efforts by local public health agencies to prevent the spread of disease by offering clean equipment, expand protections for Coloradans acting in good faith to administer an opioid antagonist, ensure that drug users know they can go to the hospital without fear of arrest, and broaden existing drug testing grant programs to get ahead of the next black market substances hitting Colorado like xylazine, or “tranq”.

Bill 4, sponsored by Senator Kevin Priola, Representative Chris deGruy Kennedy, and House Minority Leader Mike Lynch, would foster more recovery-friendly workplaces, clear barriers for sober living residences, and urge grocery stores to avoid in-your-face alcohol advertizing that makes it harder for people in recovery to simply buy food for their families.

The four bills will now go to the Legislative Council for approval before being introduced next session. Once introduced in the 2024 session, interim bills will follow the legislative process in the same manner as all other bills.

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