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DHS awards emergency room grants to combat Colorado opioid crisis

Author: Joey Bunch - April 13, 2018 - Updated: April 23, 2018

drug antidote(Photo by Dr. James Heilman, MD, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

The Colorado Department of Human Services said Thursday it’s directing $400,000 in grant money to two Colorado emergency rooms to aid in the ongoing fight against the state’s drug addiction crisis.

St. Anthony North Health Campus in Westminster and University of Colorado Hospital in Aurora will participate in pilot program supported by the federal State Targeted Response to the Opioid Crisis Grant.

The grant money will help the Colorado hospitals treat opioid crises in emergency rooms, then steer addicts into outpatient programs that use medication and behavioral therapy.

DHS called it the “gold standard for treating opioid use disorder.”

The grant also helps the hospitals to provide those at risk of overdose with the antidote naloxone, which goes by the brand name Narcan, for future overdoses and refer people to clean-needle programs.

DHS said that between 2000 and 2016, almost 5,000 Coloradans died from prescription opioids or heroin.

“Drug addiction can happen to anyone,” Robert Werthwein, director of DHS’s Office of Behavioral Health, said in a statement. “That’s why these grant dollars are essential to creating a unified Colorado response to the opioid crisis, helping us make sure we see patients through emergency procedures to treatment to recovery.

“We know combating opioid addiction requires a strategy focused on prevention, medication-assisted treatment and recovery. We’re hopeful these hospitals can lead the charge in helping more Coloradans get the help they need.”

The Office of Behavioral Health received $7.9 million this year and last year from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to address the high addiction and death rates in Colorado.

DHS has seen promising results from two other opioid-related pilot programs.

One reduced the number of opioid descriptions being written by hospitals. The other is training hundreds of medical professionals in rural communities on administering medication-assisted treatments to help those who live too far from the state’s 23 opioid treatment sites.

The Colorado Hospital Association, which assisted with the pilot programs, hopes they can be of use to hospitals across the state.

The grants remove economic barriers for medical professionals “on the front lines of the opioid crisis,” Werthwein stated.

“We want to ensure nothing comes between them and their desire to help more Coloradans get the treatment they need,” he said.

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch is the senior political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has a 31-year career in journalism, including the last 15 in Colorado. He was part of the Denver Post team that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2013 and is a two-time Pulitzer finalist. His resume includes covering high school sports, the environment, the casino industry and civil rights in the South, as well as a short stint at CNN.