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

Across Colorado and the United States, rates of opioid addiction and overdose are devastating communities, families and individuals. Colorado recorded 558 opioid overdose deaths in 2017 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.

What are Opioids?

Opioids are a class of drug that includes illegal drugs like heroin and prescription drugs or painkillers such as oxycodone (OxyContin®), hydrocodone (Vicodin®), codeine, morphine and many others. Prescriptions opioids are often prescribed for short periods of time to address acute pain, but can lead to addiction or chemical dependence in as few as 7 days. Among people misusing the drug, most people (75 percent) are getting their opioids from a doctor, friend or family member. This is why Colorado and many other states are working to reduce the number of opioid prescriptions and support safe prescribing methods.  

Misuse of prescription opioids can also lead into heroin use. Among heroin users in Colorado, 70 percent say they started their drug use with prescription medications. If you or a loved one is misusing prescription medications or heroin, TREATMENT WORKS and RECOVERY IS POSSIBLE.

Medication-Assisted Treatment

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.