Spotlight on opioid abuse
Senate OKs bill creating CU research center to combat substance
The spike in opioid overdose deaths in Colorado has prompted state lawmakers to take action to expand access to substance-abuse treatment and addiction prevention.
The state Senate on Wednesday gave unanimous approval to legislation that would create a substance abuse research center at the University of Colorado and another bill to launch a pilot project in two hard-hit counties.
“We have an epidemic, not just in this country, but in the state of Colorado,” said Sen. Cheri Jahn, D-Wheat Ridge, the sponsor of one of the bills.
Opioid-related overdose deaths in 2015 totaled 472, according to the latest figures from the state health department, exceeding once again the number of homicides in the state.
Other states are seeing a greater increase in deaths, but certain areas of Colorado are experiencing a significant spike in heroin addiction and prescription opioid abuse.
Democratic Sen. Leroy Garcia, a practicing paramedic, knows the stories in his hometown of Pueblo.
“The failure to address this concern is leading to more and more states seeing more and more people dying at younger and younger ages — leaving more and more families torn and more and more communities torn apart and devastated by this travesty,” he said.
Garcia is the lead sponsor on Senate Bill 74 to create a pilot program in Pueblo and Routt counties to increase access to medication-assisted treatment.
The two-year, $1 million program will train nurse practitioners and physician assistants to administer buprenorphine as part of addiction services. He said the two counties were selected to support ongoing local efforts to address opioid addiction.
The other measure, Senate Bill 193, seeks to develop additional substance-abuse strategies through the creation of a research
center at the state’s flagship university. The program will start with $1 million in seed money from marijuana taxes, and CU pledged to find private donors and seek federal research dollars.
Jahn said the center will help continue discussions about prevention and treatment to keep the momentum from recent intervention efforts at the state level.
Both measures received bipartisan support in the Republican-led Senate.
Sen. Tim Neville, R-Littleton, called opioid abuse “probably the No. 1 issue facing Colorado in terms of severity.”
Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud, acknowledged he is often reluctant to create new state programs with expensive price tags, but he said this issue is different.
“This,” he said, “is an issue that is significant enough that we need to be a part of the solution, not just watch the problem.”
The Democratic-led House is expected to give the measures final approval before sessions adjourns May 10.