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Kara MasonKara MasonSeptember 27, 20173min3930

In places across Colorado that have been hit hard by the opioid crisis there are few resources, especially for those who’ve served in the military and find themselves with a substance-abuse problem. This week the state learned it’ll get nearly $400,000 for veteran drug courts.

The Department of Justice grant is being awarded to the Colorado Judicial Department, which has just a handful of courts aimed at veterans with trauma spectrum disorders. That can range from PTSD to substance abuse or other mental health challenges.

Pueblo, among the worst for opioid addiction in the state, and El Paso County, with a heavy military presence, each have a veteran treatment court. And Denver’s drug court has a veteran’s track. Even so, resources for veterans with substance abuse problems can be limited.

“Over the past year-and-a-half, I have traveled across the 3rd Congressional District and heard the stories of families and individuals who have been impacted by the opioid epidemic that is sweeping our nation. All of these stories are heartbreaking, but especially heartbreaking are the stories about veterans who return home and feel they have no other option but to seek comfort in drugs or alcohol,” said 3rd Congressional U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton in a statement, after learning of the grant award to Colorado.

Tipton’s district includes places such as Pueblo, where the veteran population nears 15,000 people in Pueblo County and has been highlighted as a hotspot for opioid addiction.

“Drug courts are an important path to recovery for many of these men and women, and I’m glad that Colorado has been awarded this funding to support and enhance the drug court program,” he said.

Veteran treatment courts received nearly half of the grant money the Justice Department awarded for opioid crisis-related programs across the nation, but they also further the department’s priority of “reducing crime by holding offenders accountable for their actions, and reducing victimization by intervening soon after arrest to prevent future crime.”

The DOJ awarded a total of $22.3 million to 53 jurisdictions for veteran drug courts, which the department describes as “‘one-stop-shops’ to link veterans with services, benefits and program providers, including the Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Service Organizations and volunteer veteran mentors.”

Nearly one-fifth of veterans across the country have a substance abuse disorder, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs, and it’s estimated one-third of veterans seeking help for substance abuse have PTSD.


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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirSeptember 13, 20172min2640

Government and business leaders, recovery advocates and others will discuss how the state is addressing its opioid crisis today at a town hall-style summit hosted by Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman.

A press announcement issued by Coffman’s office Tuesday says she will be joined by Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne and Lyons Mayor Connie Sullivan, who will be representing the Metro Mayors Caucus. Also in attendance will be other government and business leaders, recovery advocates, service providers, people in recovery and community members, who will, “bring attention to the importance of supporting individuals recovering from substance use and mental disorders.”

The press statement also notes:

Panel discussions will highlight the work that is being done across Colorado to fight the opioid epidemic, as well as potential ways to improve our collective response to the crisis. …

… Coffman is the chair of the Colorado Substance Abuse Trend and Response Task Force, a group that addresses ways to better assist communities in responding to drug use problems. In the midst of the opioid crisis, Colorado is receiving federal funds that will increase access to medication-assisted treatment. As more individuals access treatment, recovery support becomes critical for increasing success for people in recovery. This event will mark the official launch of the new Recovery Ready Colorado initiative focused on Colorado’s recovery efforts.

Where: Colorado Attorney General’s Office (room 1D), 1300 Broadway, Denver, CO 80203

When: Today from 1:30 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. Media may come and go as needed. There will be an opportunity for interviews both at 2 p.m. and after the event concludes at 3 p.m.

Facebook livestream at: https://facebook.com/RecoveryReadyColorado/

 

 


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Scott TiptonScott TiptonSeptember 12, 20178min1870

Over the month of August, my team and I traveled over 1,700 miles across the 3rd Congressional District and state of Colorado, making over 30 stops to discuss the most pressing issues facing our nation. I had the privilege of visiting with local economic development leaders, county commissioners, school boards, health care providers, veterans groups, substance abuse professionals and many others — including U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt. He visited the Gold King Mine site on the two-year anniversary of the toxic spill to reassure the community that the EPA is prioritizing cleanup of the site and will make those impacted by the spill whole.

There are a few themes that I heard throughout the month no matter where I was, and it is clear that jobs and the economy, health care, and the nation’s opioid abuse epidemic are top of mind for many Coloradans.

In Colorado, we have a tale of two economies. While resort towns and major metropolitan areas are thriving, there are many communities on the Western Slope, Front Range, and in the San Luis Valley where families are struggling. The legacy of heavy-handed federal regulations is still preventing the private sector in these communities from creating jobs and supporting economic security.

According to the Small Business Administration’s 2016 statistics, small businesses support 49 percent of Colorado’s workforce. Small businesses are truly the backbone of our state’s economy, and we must do everything we can to support entrepreneurs and job creators. Unfortunately, a 2014 study by the Brookings Institute showed an alarming trend: in recent years, the number of small businesses that have shut down exceeds the number that have opened their doors. Nowhere has this trend been felt more profoundly than in rural America, where small businesses are responsible for approximately two-thirds of all jobs.

As a former small business owner, my focus in Congress has been on advancing policies that will create an environment where we see more businesses opening than closing each year. When more businesses open, struggling families have more job opportunities and a better chance at achieving financial stability.

While it takes time to undo nearly a decade of harmful regulatory policies, we are making progress on this front in the 115th Congress. So far this year, Congress passed and the president has signed 14 congressional resolutions of disapproval that roll back unnecessary, overly burdensome federal regulations, and the House passed the REINS Act (H.R. 26), which would require Congressional approval of any regulation that would have an economic impact of $100 million or more. Although we still have a long way to go, I am confident that we are heading in the right direction to deliver more job opportunities and economic stability to families in the 3rd Congressional District.

The Colorado Division of Insurance recently announced that premiums in the state’s individual health insurance market will increase by 26.7 percent on average in 2018. This is on top of the 20 percent increase in 2017 and 24 percent increase in 2016. The trajectory is unsustainable and unacceptable. We must repeal and replace the so-called Affordable Act and bring affordable health insurance to the 3rd Congressional District.

In May, the House made important progress towards this goal by passing the American Health Care Act (AHCA). The bill would drive down the cost of health insurance and bring competition and choice to the market, while ensuring that individuals who have pre-existing conditions maintain access to affordable health insurance. In addition to the AHCA, the House also passed bills to begin medical tort reform — an issue that needs to be addressed in order to drive down health care costs — and allow small businesses and associations to provide insurance options for their employees or members across state lines, which will give individuals and families more choices when it comes to their insurance coverage. These bills were the Protecting Access to Care Act (H.R. 1215), Small Business Health Fairness Act of 2017 (H.R. 1101), and the Competitive Health Insurance Reform Act (H.R. 372).

The Senate has not yet passed the AHCA or a health care bill of its own that would allow both chambers to compromise on final legislation. It is beyond time for the Senate to act.

As I have traveled our district to speak with the men and women who work on the front lines of the opioid abuse epidemic, it has become clear to me that Colorado has some of the most dedicated doctors, nurses, counselors, and substance abuse professionals in the country. The president recently declared the opioid abuse epidemic a national emergency, and I have been committed to ensuring our communities have the resources they need to develop and sustain prevention, treatment, and recovery programs.

In 2016, the 21st Century Cures Act and Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) were both signed into law. These bills authorized programs to provide states with more resources to expand opioid abuse prevention and treatment efforts. As a result of these bills, Colorado received $7.8 million to support prevention, treatment, and recovery services, and the Department of Health and Human Services has made $75.9 million in competitive grants available to state mental health and substance abuse agencies.

I continue to receive feedback on how the federal government can better support Colorado’s efforts to fight the opioid abuse epidemic, and I’m committed to incorporating this feedback into policy decisions that are made in Washington.

Congress has a full agenda between now and the end of the year. If you have any questions about bills that are up for a vote or my work on your behalf, please do not hesitate to give my office in Washington, DC, a call at 202-225-4761. You can also write to me on my website, www.tipton.house.gov.


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Adam McCoyAdam McCoyAugust 17, 20174min880

As the opioid epidemic rages on across the country, officials back home are exploring ways to buck the trend of overdose deaths and the spread of disease due to dirty needle use.

Denver City Council President Albus Brooks on Tuesday threw his support behind a proposal to provide a safe place for illicit drug users to shoot up under medical supervision, according to CBS4. The facility would strive to reduce overdose deaths from heroin and other drugs with medical personnel on site, considering the roughly 170 drug-related deaths in Denver city and county last year.

The Denver Harm Reduction Action Center (HRAC) floated the proposal during a public hearing in Denver. The center, which provides proper syringe disposal, clean syringes, street outreach and help with mental health/substance abuse treatment among other services, hopes to work with the city on legislation to realize the proposal.

For Brooks, who recently celebrated a year cancer-free, his support was personal, CBS4 reported:

“I had cancer and a 15 pound tumor was removed last year,” Brooks told a crowd of roughly 100 people at the downtown Denver Library on Tuesday. “In the hospital they give you some crazy drugs and I got hooked on opioids.”

Brooks said he had strong medical support from his doctors to “figure out how to get off them,” but realizes not everyone has that support.

HRAC says on its website that while it supports treatment efforts, “the most effective way to prevent the spread HIV or Hepatitis C (HCV) is to stop it at its source: the needle.”

“By meeting drug users ‘where they’re at’ in the spectrum of their use, we encourage any positive changes that our participants are ready and able to make,” HRAC said.

In response to a significant uptick in overdose deaths, Seattle opened the country’s first supervised injection facilities in January, the Washington Post reports. The country has been hit hard by opioid addiction, with overdoses killing a record 33,000 people in 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


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Joey BunchJoey BunchJuly 19, 20173min44
The American Legislative Exchange Council kicks off its three-day annual gathering in Denver Wednesday to tilt state legislators from across the country toward the industry-friendly principles of free markets and limited government. Moreover, the business-supported nonprofit best known by its acronym, ALEC, helps them draft pro-business legislation to fight a ground war of sorts in […]

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Peter MarcusPeter MarcusJuly 10, 20175min440

In rural Colorado Republicans and Democrats could find common ground on the campaign trail over opioid abuse, which has plagued parts of the state.

U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, and a Democratic challenger, state Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush, D-Steamboat Springs, are both highlighting the issue in the 3rd Congressional District.

Tipton on Friday announced that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is providing $195 million in new federal funding for health centers to increase access to mental health and substance abuse services.

Health centers can apply for the grants to help fight opioid abuse and provide services to individuals and families impacted by mental illness. Tipton’s office is assisting health centers and groups interested in applying for the grants.

“The number one thing I hear in communities that have been impacted by the opioid epidemic is that they need more resources to increase access to both substance abuse treatment and mental health services,” Tipton said. “Colorado’s health care providers are some of the most dedicated in the country, and additional resources will further support their efforts to fight opioid abuse and address mental illness in our communities.”

Tipton is facing a challenge from Mitsch Bush, who recently launched her campaign in the sprawling southern and western Colorado district.

The district swings between Republicans and Democrats, though it currently favors a Republican candidate. Tipton, in his fourth term, fought off a spirited challenge last year by former state Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Gunnison County, defeating Scwartz by nearly 15 points.

More than a third of the district is comprised of unaffiliated voters, which means tens of thousands of votes are potentially up in the air. Fighting opioid abuse is a bipartisan subject that could provide similar messaging from Republicans and Democrats on the campaign trail.

Mitsch Bush said the $195 million in nationwide funding is barely a start and that members of Congress should be fighting harder on the issue.

“That’s spitting in the ocean. It’s better than zero, but $195 million, you’ve got to be kidding me,” Mitsch Bush said.

The grants are expected to be awarded in September. The Health Center Program funds providers in underserved areas, about 1,400 community health centers providing care to more than 24 million people. There are 20 Community Health Centers in Colorado.

The new funding could help heath centers add employees and invest in technology to help expand access to care for mental health and substance abuse services.

In May, HHS announced over $70 million to help communities and health care providers prevent opioid overdose deaths and provide treatment for opioid use disorder, of which $28 million will be dedicated for medication-assisted treatment.

A separate recent grant announced by the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy made $3 million available to expand opioid-related health care services in rural communities.

Opioid abuse could also be one of the few things that unites some Republicans and Democrats as negotiations over the U.S. Senate’s health care bill continue. The controversial measure would provide states with $2 billion to address opioids in 2018. But some Republicans are joining with Democrats to call for the fund to go up to $45 billion over the next decade.

In Colorado, overdose deaths from prescription opioids dropped between 2015 and 2016, but the state continues to grapple with an increase in heroin overdoses. And Colorado remains a leader in prescription drug abuse. Some studies have placed Colorado second in the nation for prescription opioid abuse.

With the annual cost of the nationwide opioid epidemic estimated at more than $78 billion, Mitsch Bush says Congress should act with grater urgency.

“In order to tackle opioid abuse problems, opioid addiction problems, we need to tackle the larger issue as well,” Mitsch Bush said. “Until it becomes recognized as the way we do business, to have mental health and substance abuse out of parity with physical heath, we’re going to have these bits of money like this provided here and there, but we’re not going to have a sustainable source of funding.”


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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirJuly 5, 20174min600

ColoradoPolitics.com and other news media have reported extensively on efforts by the 2017 legislature to tackle the rampant abuse of opioids across Colorado; notably, a pilot program authored by two Democratic state lawmakers from Pueblo was OK’d by their peers and signed into law by the governor. Senate Bill 74, sponsored by Sen. Leroy Garcia and Rep. Daneya Esgar, will use marijuana tax revenue to train practitioners and expand treatment for opioid addiction in Pueblo and Routt counties, two places hit hard by the abuse of the drugs.

Of course, that effort just scratches the surface. It’s tempting whenever the legislature acts on a crisis to declare it solved, but we all know better, and an overview by Pulp Newsmagazine of the ongoing fight against rampant opioid abuse in Pueblo reminds us of the scale of the problem. Pulp’s Kara Mason writes:

The evolution of opioid addiction in Colorado, particularly in Southern Colorado, has been aggressive to say the least.

In April, a multi-agency report under the Colorado Consortium for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention showcased a grave picture of the problem across the state: heroin-related deaths doubled from 2011 to 2015, heroin seizures by Colorado law enforcement increased 2,035 percent during the same time period and the number of people who were in treatment for heroin addiction increased 128 percent.

And one takeaway from Mason’s reporting is that delving deeper into the opioid issue involves more than just legislation; for one thing, it requires concerted action by the communities most affected, like Pueblo:

In each 2015 and 2016, Pueblo County saw 12 overdoses related to opioid use — the highest death count in the state, three times the state rate. And according to Dr. Michael Nerenberg, who runs the mobile needle exchange program in Pueblo, the problem isn’t getting better. It’s getting worse.

At a February Pueblo City Council work session Nerenberg said over the course of a year — June 2015 to June 2016 — the exchange had a reported 3,020 visits, which comes out to just over 250 visits per month. The needle exchange saw 420 total new clients and distributed nearly 200,000 needles. 118,000 were collected by the volunteers, which Nerenberg said is a conservative estimate.

How have city government and other agencies responded? What more could they do? And what role can the federal government play? Read Mason’s story for insights into those and many other questions swirling around Colorado’s opioid crisis. Pueblo is as good a place as any to look for answers; the Steel City is on the frontline of the battle.

 


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Joey BunchJoey BunchJune 12, 20173min550

Colorado Politics has been telling you for some time about the good things the state has been doing to curb its soaring opioid drug abuse problem, but news out of Pueblo sounds like a setback. The Pueblo Chieftain has been all over the story about the closing, “at least temporarily,” of a state program that treats people with mental illness and drug addiction.

The Colorado Mental Health Institute at Pueblo must shutter its Circle Program after a dire warning of “immediate jeopardy” from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, brought on by staffing shortages. Ten patients now in the 90-day residential program are being transferred to other sources for the help they need.

The Chieftain reports that Rep. Daneya Esgar and Sens. Larry Crowder and Leroy Garcia are out to get to the bottom of the problems. The state psychiatric hospital is an important part of Pueblo since 1879, employing more than 1,200 people for the 449-bed hospital on a 300-acre campus.

The Colorado Department of Human Services told reporters Friday it has a plan centered on patient care that will raise staffing levels, but if it doesn’t get those steps in place by June 28, the federal agency will terminate the program’s Medicare agreement.

DHS conceded that the state mental hospital has been struggling with a serious staffing shortage for some time. The efforts to address that quickly include mandatory overtime, changes to work schedules, speeding up hiring and freezing new annual leave requests, according to the agency.

The hospital has fallen short on providing require one-on-one time with patients and sometimes didn’t have enough staff to run all their group sessions, either, DHS said.

“High quality patient care is our top priority. We take staffing levels at our mental health institutes very, very seriously,” Dr. Kim Nordstrom, medical director of DHS’s Office of Behavioral Health, which oversees the hospital, said in a statement. “There are many variables at work in the staffing shortage. The plan we have put in place will address the challenges identified by CMS. We are very grateful to our dedicated staff and we have all hands on deck.”


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Joey BunchJoey BunchJune 9, 20175min380

Colorado lawmakers wasted little time working on the next steps to combating the state’s drug abuse crisis, announcing a special study commission this week. Ten members were named the Opioid and Other Substance Use Disorders Interim Study Committee to find more solutions.

The committee is authorized to recommend up to six bills in the 2018 session, based on its findings.

Overdose deaths in Colorado have doubled since 2000, and the state has the second-highest rate of prescription drug abuse in the country, behind only Oregon.

“I’m looking forward to working on this committee to help address the issues Colorado, especially Southern Colorado, is facing regarding opioid and other substance abuse disorders,” said Rep. Clarice Navarro, R-Pueblo, a member of the committee. “I’ve seen firsthand what this is doing to our communities in Fremont, Otero and Pueblo counties, and I know we can do more to ensure safe communities for our family, friends and neighbors.”

House Minority Leader Patrick Neville, R-Castle Rock, said he appointed Navarro to be “an impactful member” because her district has been hit hard by opioid addiction “that all of Colorado faces.”

The group will hear from all sorts of experts, agencies and organizations, as well as examine an array of data, including prevention, education and insurance coverage that could support treatment and recovery. They will examine the hurdles and gaps that get between addicts and recovery.

Rep. Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood, will chair the committee, and Sen. Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs will co-chair. Other members are Reps Perry Buck, R-Windson; Chris Kennedy, D-Lakewood; and Jonathan Singer, D-Longmont, with Sens. Irene Aguilar, D-Denver; Cheri Jahn, D-Arvada; Kevin Priola, R-Fort Morgan; and Jack Tate R=Centennial.

Last session lawmakers passed Senate Bill 193 to use $1 million of marijuana tax money for a substance abuse research center at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center. They also passed Senate Bill 74 to create a pilot program marrying anti-addiction medication and therapy in Pueblo and Routt counties.

In addition, House Bill 1351 calls on the Department of Human Serves to study options under Medicaid for inpatient and residential recovery programs. Currently the state offers only four days of emergency treatment.

Outside the Capitol, the Colorado Hospital Association announced this week its launching an opioid safety pilot in eight hospitals and three freestanding emergency departments

The hospitals and emergency rooms will use new guidelines on reducing the use of opioids for pain treatment, while gathering data, establishing best practices and determine how well alternatives manage acute pain.

“Knowing how I was treating pain in the (emergency department) and the potential for addiction after discharge led my colleagues and I to seriously think about how we could reduce patient exposure to opioids, while at the same time improve pain management,” said Dr. Don Stader MD, a member of the Colorado chapter of the American College of Emergency Physicians and chairman of its opioid task force.

While opioids address all types of pain, the alternatives developed by Stader and Swedish Medical Center pharmacist Rachael Duncan, focus on specific kinds of pain and their root causes. In other being sick no longer necessarily comes with the bonus of getting stoned off the medication.

The hospitals are Swedish Medical Center in Englewood, Boulder Community Health and Community Medical Center Emergency Room, Gunnison Valley Health, Medical Center of the Rockies in Loveland and UCHealth-Greeley Emergency and Surgery Center, Poudre Valley Hospital & UCHealth Emergency Room-Harmony in Fort Collins, Sedgwick County Health Center in Julesburg, Sky Ridge Medical Center in Lone Tree and Yampa Valley Medical Center in Steamboat Springs.