Over $100M for Behavioral Health, New Support Programs Signed into Law

DENVER, CO– Governor Polis today signed four bills into law that will infuse $114 million in state and federal funds into the state’s behavioral health system, prevent substance use disorders, create the 9-8-8 suicide prevention hotline in Colorado and incorporate behavioral health into the state’s response to disasters, such as wildfires, floods or shootings.

“As we listened to communities across Colorado about how we could most effectively direct American Rescue Plan Act funds, we consistently heard that we need to fix our state’s behavioral health system,” said Rep. Dafna Michaelson Jenet, D-Commerce City. “SB21-137 sets aside over half a billion dollars to put Colorado on track to make the transformational changes we need to significantly improve access to behavioral health care. At the same time, we’re directing $114 million, right away, to providers, nonprofits and local governments to address Colorado’s behavioral health emergency.” 

SB21-137, sponsored by Representatives Dafna Michaelson Jenet and Chis Kennedy, will immediately deploy $114 million in state and federal stimulus funds to various behavioral health grant programs to assist providers, nonprofits and local governments address substance abuse, maternal and child health, and other behavioral health prevention and treatment programs around the state. To help address Colorado’s youth mental health crisis, the law requires CDHS to develop a program to provide emergency resources to licensed providers who face barriers in providing treatment and services to youth whose behavioral health needs require them to be in a residential facility. The bill creates the behavioral health cash fund and sets aside $450 million to be allocated through an interim process that will gather input from experts and craft recommendations. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated Colorado’s mental health crisis, and we’re seeing far more fatal drug overdoses and significantly increased demand for behavioral health services in our state,” said Rep. Chris Kennedy, D-Lakewood. “The bills Governor Polis signed today will immediately boost our state’s mental health system, prevent people from developing a substance use disorder and help Colorado build back stronger through historic investments that will substantially expand our mental health treatment capacity.”

“Preventing substance use disorders will save lives and help our communities recover from the pandemic,” said Rep. Leslie Herod, D-Denver. “This has been a deadly year for drug overdoses in our state. Coloradans need more options to reduce opioid use when other treatments may help. With the governor signing HB21-1276 today, we’ll continue critical efforts to improve benzodiazepine prescribing practices, and insurance plans will have to cover more options for pain treatment that will reduce opioid use and prevent substance use disorders.”

Governor Polis also signed HB21-1276, sponsored by Representatives Chris Kennedy and Leslie Herod, which seeks to prevent substance use disorder by increasing access to non-opioid and atypical opioid treatments. It also continues prescribing limits on opioids and puts in place a process to lower new prescriptions for benzodiazepine. In 2020, fatal drug overdoses increased by 59 percent in Colorado. 

“Colorado is seeing a rise in suicide deaths, and some parts of our state have the highest youth suicide rates in the country,” said Rep. Lisa Cutter, D-Jefferson County. “One of my priorities this session was to improve crisis support services in Colorado. The two laws Governor Polis signed today will ensure people can get the support they need in the aftertermath of a disaster or tragedy or when they are in crisis.”

SB21-154, sponsored by Representatives Lisa Cutter and Matt Soper, implements the 988 national suicide prevention lifeline network in Colorado. By calling this number, individuals will be provided with crisis outreach, stabilization, and acute care that aims to prevent suicide deaths. The law aims to establish the new hotline by July 2022.

HB21-1281, sponsored by Representative Lisa Cutter and Perry Will, creates the Community Behavioral Health Disaster Preparedness and Response Program in the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE). The program is intended to enhance, support, and formalize behavioral health disaster preparedness and response activities of community behavioral health organizations.

The intent of disaster response is to promote individual, family, and community resilience and it helps affected individuals return to a pre-disaster level of activity as quickly as possible. Disaster response methods include triage, basic support, psychological first aid, and making appropriate professional referrals in the community. Community mental health centers are already operating a number of programs that would fall within the scope of this fund, especially as they relate to COVID-19, but funding for these programs is often fragmented. The bill would provide funding to community behavioral health organizations for the disaster response services they provide.

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