Governor John Hickenlooper signed Senate Bill 74 last week, which will allocate $500,000 per year for the next two years towards combating opioid addiction.
The money will be given to the CU-Anschutz College of Nursing to fund a pilot program, which will focus its efforts on counties who’ve been particularly affected by the opioid epidemic. A specific statute within Colorado’s cannabis legislation allows cannabis tax revenue be used to “treat and provide related services to people with any type of substance use disorder, including those with co-occurring disorders, or to evaluate the effectiveness and sufficiency of substance use disorder services.”
The Southeastern Colorado region contains about 6 percent of the state’s population. However, it accounts for 18 percent of all hospital admissions for heroin abuse. Between 2014 and 2016, drug overdoses in Routt county increased by almost 600 percent. Text within the bill mentions that fatal overdoses have doubled between 2000 and 2015. But between Pueblo and Routt counties, there are a total of four physicians trained in prescribing medication for opioid treatment. The allocated tax dollars would help train more medical professionals in administering treatments.
“…we all know that the opioid problem is impacting every single one of our districts across the state, so I think we are all just trying to help find solutions that will work,” said Representative Daneya Esgar (D-Pueblo) in February after the legislation was approved unanimously in committee. “This isn’t a Pueblo issue. This isn’t a Republican issue. This isn’t a Democrat issue. This is an issue impacting every single of one our districts.”
The program would focus on awarding grants to initiatives that focus on treatment, mental health services, and medical care given to patients suffering from addiction. A grant-style approval process for would be used to request funds, which would include an advisory board made up of local and state health officials, and requirements for reporting the results of the grant programs. The data gathered by the grant programs would be presented to the state legislature and the governor’s office.
It is not clear if state health officials are considering cannabis as a possible treatment for opioid addiction or opioid withdrawal. Last year, a study showed a decrease in opioid prescriptions in states who had legalized medical marijuana, and an increase in patients using medical marijuana to treat pain conditions instead of opioid painkillers. While public health experts are looking to curb addiction and fatal overdoses, cannabis could be a non-fatal and less addictive alternative. The CDC estimates that the nation spends $72 billion on opioid abuse annually, and deaths from opioids had quadrupled since 1999.
Colorado’s new program is set to launch on or before January 2018. Any unused funds at the end of the fiscal year would rollover to the following year, and the CU-Anschutz College of Nursing advisory board will have the latitude to accept additional funds in the forms of donations and gifts that would directly benefit the program. Thanks to the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2016, created during the Obama Administration, the state legislature was able to help initialize the program.