New CDHS programs combat Colorado’s opioid crisis

DENVER (April 12, 2018) – The Colorado Department of Human Services (CDHS), Office of Behavioral Health (OBH) today announced two awards to community hospital emergency departments to combat the opioid crisis. The two community partners, St. Anthony North Health Campus in Westminster and University of Colorado Hospital in Aurora, will each receive more than $400,000 to pilot a new 13-month program to expand access to treatment for opioid addiction through hospital emergency departments.

The pilot program is funded through the federal State Targeted Response to the Opioid Crisis Grant. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration awarded OBH nearly $7.9 million a year for two years starting in April 2017. The pilot will help the two hospitals start patients on treatment for opioid addiction in the emergency department, and then connect those patients to outpatient substance use treatment.

Specifically, these pilots are using Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT), which is a combination of medication and behavioral therapy and is widely considered to be the gold standard for treating opioid use disorder. The grant will also assist hospitals in adopting harm reduction practices, including giving patients naloxone (Narcan) when they leave to prevent future overdose and making referrals to clean needle programs.

Opioids are a class of drug that includes illegal drugs, such as heroin, and prescription drugs or painkillers, such as oxycodone (OxyContin®), hydrocodone (Vicodin®), codeine, morphine and many others. From 2000-2016, 4,927 Coloradans have lost their lives to opioid overdose, with deaths related to either prescription opioids or heroin.

“Drug addiction can happen to anyone,” said Robert Werthwein, Director of the Office of Behavioral Health. “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.”

OBH is working closely with the Colorado Hospital Association (CHA), which recently saw strong early successes for an opioid-related pilot program aimed at reducing opioid administrations in hospital emergency departments. CHA will share the data and best practices from both pilots with all other hospitals in Colorado.

To ensure people have a place to receive MAT in their community when they leave the hospital, OBH has helped train 290 doctors, physician’s assistants and nurse practitioners to prescribe buprenorphine -- which is a form of MAT -- through a doctor’s office setting. The goal is for hospitals in the pilot to connect with these practices and Opioid Treatment Programs (OTPs) to ensure continuity of care and to increase access to MAT across the state. For rural and frontier communities that may not be close to one of Colorado’s 23 OTP locations, which are mostly in urban settings, a doctor’s office may be the only place they can access MAT.

The OBH-led program that trains local practices to prescribe MAT, called IT MATTTRs2, is also funded through the federal State Targeted Response grant. The funding helps to remove economic barriers to receiving the required training to prescribe buprenorphine by compensating practitioners for their time in training.

“These practitioners are on the front lines of the opioid crisis. We want to ensure nothing comes between them and their desire to help more Coloradans get the treatment they need,” Werthwein said.

At its launch in August 2017, those directing IT MATTTRs2 hoped to pay for 300 medical professionals to receive training through April 2019. Due to the initial success of the program, the new goal is 450 practitioners. IT MATTTRs2 stands for Implementing Technology and Medication-Assisted Treatment and Team Training in Rural Colorado.

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