Opioid Crisis in Colorado: The Office of Behavioral Health's Role, Research and Resources

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Across Colorado and the United States, rates of opioid addiction and overdose are devastating communities, families and individuals. Colorado recorded 543 opioid overdose deaths in 2018 from both prescription opioids and illegal opioids such as heroin. The opioid epidemic is a result of a number of challenges, including a sharp and steady increase in opioids such as hydrocodone and oxycodone prescribed for patients by their doctors, limited access to treatment especially in rural areas, increased use of heroin and injection drug use, deadly additives to the heroin supply such as fentanyl and carfentanil, stigma and the cost of treatment.

Nationwide, an estimated 11.8 million people misused opioids in 2016, including 11.5 million pain reliever misusers and 948,000 heroin users, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. A White House Council of Economic Advisers analysis said the opioid epidemic cost between $293.9 and $622.1 billion in 2015, with a preferred estimate of $504 billion.

The Office of Behavioral Health provides oversight of and purchases opioid treatment services, including traditional substance use disorder treatment and opioid treatment programs (OTPs). The Office provides some oversight for office-based opioid treatment (OBOT), and training support for primary care providers who prescribe or would like to prescribe buprenorphine. In May 2018, the Office of Behavioral Health launched Lift The Label, a public awareness campaign that strives to remove damaging labels and stigmas that prevent those with opioid addiction from seeking effective treatment.


Treatment for Opioid Use Disorder

Medication-assisted treatment is considered the gold standard because the three types of medicine commonly used to treat opioid addiction -- methadone, buprenorphine and naltrexone -- have been found effective in clinical trials. Medication-assisted treatment (MAT), including opioid treatment programs (OTPs), combines behavioral therapy and medications to treat substance use disorders. Those receiving medications as part of their treatment are 75 percent less likely to die because of addiction than those not receiving medications. To understand how medication-assisted treatment works in the brain, you can watch this short video from The Pew Charitable Trust.

Medication-assisted treatment can be found in Colorado by:

Need to find treatment outside of Colorado? Click here.

Paying for Treatment

The Office of Behavioral Health funds treatment for individuals without insurance and pays for inpatient substance use treatment for individuals with Medicaid. HealthFirst Colorado (Medicaid) and most commercial health insurance pay for outpatient substance use treatment, including MAT. If you cannot pay for treatment, most substance use providers use a sliding scale based on income and have financial counselors that can help you get health insurance.

Substance use providers may have a wait to get in. If you need immediate assistance, including access to a professional counselor, call, text or chat with the Colorado Crisis Line available 24/7. Call 1-844-493-8255 or Text “TALK” to 38255 or chat online from 4 p.m. to midnight.