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Colorado Will Use American Rescue Funds to Combat Substance Abuse Disorders

August 11, 2021 by Alexa Hornbeck
(Wikimedia Commons)

Colorado is experiencing a substance abuse disorder crisis, and now city officials are looking to combat the problem with $450 million in federal funding from the American Rescue Plan. 

Fatal drug overdose deaths increased approximately 38% in Colorado from 2019 to 2020, according to preliminary federal data from the National Vital Statistics System.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment reported 1,477 deaths statewide in 2002, compared to 1,072 people who died of an overdose in 2019. 

State data also shows a rise in fentanyl-associated deaths, which more than doubled from 222 deaths in 2019, to 540 deaths in 2020.

Gov. Jared Polis signed SB 21-137, also known as the Behavioral Health Recovery Act, into law on June 28, which allocates $100 million to behavioral health programs.

The funds will be allocated toward things like a medication-assisted treatment expansion pilot program, expanding the Colorado State University AgrAbility project to provide funds for a rural rehabilitation specialist, harm reduction grant program, and creating a health connector workforce program to educate health care providers on substance use disorders, mental health, and COVID-19 intersection.

The act also requires Medicaid to screen for perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, and establish a statewide data collection and information system to identify areas of improvement, promote accountability.

While the remaining $450 million in federal funding has yet to be allocated, state legislators are hoping the funds will be used to improve a new substance use benefit for Medicaid patients.

Rep. Serena Gonzalez-Gutierrez, D-Colo., will serve as a vice chair of a 16-member Behavioral Health task force created by Behavioral Health Recovery Act, which also includes a sub-panel of 25 people with expertise in substance abuse and mental health care. 

One key target that members of the task force have discussed is how to increase access to fentanyl test strips for those who use drugs to test and see if the substance is present, and providing clean syringes to drug users, both harm reduction strategies to reduce the dangers of substance abuse. 

The task force also is considering the establishment of overdose prevention sites for supervised drug use, and improving medication-assisted treatment for drugs like methamphetamine and cocaine. 

The Behavioral Task Force will hold their first meeting on August 16, and will hold additional meetings through January of next year. 

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