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Opioid efforts locally and nationally unite Republicans and Democrats

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A bipartisan group of Colorado state senators and representatives are taking on opioid addiction in a meaningful way with two bills pending before the Senate.

One would create a national research center in Colorado, and the other would foster medication and counseling programs counties could use to get a handle on local issues.

And pot users are paying for it.

Both bills passed the Senate Appropriations Committee Wednesday.

Senate Bill 193 would establish a research center focused on strategies for prevention and treatment of addictions to opiods and other controlled substances, including alcohol, at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center at the CU Anschutz Campus in Aurora.

The $1 million price tag comes from the state’s Marijuana Tax Cash Fund, which is expected to top $105 million this year.

The bill is sponsored in the Senate by Cheri Jahn, D-Wheat Ridge, and Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud. House sponsors are Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood, and Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale.

“The entire country is in an epidemic, and it’s a crisis,” Jahn said Tuesday. “Some people are calling it a carnage, and Colorado is no different.

Senate Bill 74 would create a two-year pilot program in Pueblo and Routt counties to give nurses more access to opioid addiction medications in conjunction with behavioral therapy for the addicted drug user.

The program would take $500,000 a year in each of the next two years out of the state’s marijuana tax windfall. The money would be passed to the University of Colorado Board of Regents, then to CU’s College of Nursing to run the pilot program.

“We have identified these two counties as some of the highest need counties in the state, but also because these two counties have a grassroots approach for counties that are looking to create projects that will come from the county up,” said Sen. Leroy Garcia, D-Pueblo, one of the bill’s sponsors.

Rep. Daneya Esgar, D-Pueblo, is sponsoring the bill in the House.

Jahn noted that research showed that 259 people died from overdoses of prescription such as hydrocodone and oxycodone in 2015, the same year 205 Coloradans died in homicides.

Heroin-related deaths are even higher.

In a report in November, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said that between 2000 and 2015 the state had 10,552 opioid-related overdose deaths “with rates rising in almost every year.”

Colorado’s rate rose from 7.8 overdose deaths per 100,000 people to 15.7 percent.

“In nearly every year, Colorado’s rate of drug overdose was significantly higher than the national rate,” the health department report said.

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