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New legislation aims to tackle opioid crisis in Colorado 

click to enlarge For the last two summers while the Assembly was on recess, the lawmakers studied the opioid crisis and worked with experts like Valuck to develop legislation. - SHUTTERSTOCK
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  • For the last two summers while the Assembly was on recess, the lawmakers studied the opioid crisis and worked with experts like Valuck to develop legislation.

In 2017, a group of Colorado legislators first convened the Opioid and Other Substance Use Disorders Interim Study Committee — or “opioid summer camp,” as Dr. Robert Valuck calls it.

For the last two summers while the Assembly was on recess, the lawmakers studied the opioid crisis and worked with experts like Valuck to develop legislation.

“None of these people voted straight party-line stuff,” says Valuck, who directs the Colorado Consortium for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention and spoke at a recent conference on opioids. “It was really like, ‘Look, is this a sensible thing to be doing or not? ... And is it going to really affect Coloradans in a positive way? Then let’s do it. If not, then don’t.’”

Below, we highlight several bills addressing the opioid crisis, all of which (excepting Senate Bill 013) came out of that “opioid summer camp.”

House Bill 1009

This bill, titled “Substance Use Disorders Recovery,” would expand the state’s housing voucher program to include people with substance use disorders. It would also require that recovery facilities have a state license, and create an “opioid crisis recovery fund” for settlement money the state receives from suing pill manufacturers.

Sponsored by Reps. Chris Kennedy, D-Lakewood, and Jonathan Singer, D-Longmont, the bill passed the House on April 27 and headed to the Senate, where Sens. Kevin Priola, R-Henderson, and Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood, are sponsors.

House Bill 1287

“Treatment for Opioids and Substance Use Disorders” would direct the Department of Human Services to implement an online behavioral health capacity tracking system, which would show available spots at mental health facilities and substance use treatment programs across the state. It would also create a grant program to fund substance use treatment programs in underserved areas of the state.

The bill passed the House, and was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on April 29. It’s sponsored by Reps. Daneya Esgar, D-Pueblo, and James Wilson, R-Fremont County, along with Sens. Priola and Pettersen.

Senate Bill 008

“Substance Use Disorder Treatment in Criminal Justice System,” also sponsored by Priola and Pettersen, would allow people who had been receiving medication-assisted substance use treatment in a local jail to continue that treatment after being transferred to the state Department of Corrections. It would also create a simplified process for sealing certain drug felonies, and jump-start additional responses to addressing substance use in the criminal justice system.

Reps. Kennedy and Singer are House sponsors. The bill passed the Senate and the House, but the Senate must approve amendments. 

Senate Bill 013

“Medical Marijuana Condition Opioids Prescribed For” would add any condition for which doctors would normally prescribe an opioid to the list of “disabling conditions” that qualify for medical marijuana. Minors would need the approval of two doctors, and couldn’t smoke their prescription on school grounds.

The bill passed the Senate on Feb. 12, and the House on April 29. Sponsors include Sens. Vicki Marble, R-Fort Collins, and Joann Ginal, D-Fort Collins, along with Reps. Edie Hooton, D-Boulder, and Kim Ransom, R-Littleton.

Senate Bill 227

“Harm Reduction Substance Use Disorders” would explicitly authorize schools to carry naloxone, a drug that can reverse opioid overdoses. It would also allow hospitals to serve as syringe exchange sites, expand the household medication take-back program, and create mobile response teams to provide medication-assisted substance use treatment in jails.

The bill was sponsored by Pettersen and Sen. Julie Gonzales, D-Denver. In the House, it was sponsored by Kennedy, along with Rep. Leslie Herod, D-Denver. The bill passed and was sent to the governor.

Senate Bill 228

“Substance Use Disorders Prevention Measures,” sponsored by Sens. Faith Winter, D-Westminster, and Dominick Moreno, D-Commerce City, would require certain health care providers to complete substance use education in order to renew their licenses. The bill would prevent providers from accepting benefits tied to prescribing certain medications, require opioid prescriptions to have warning labels, and create grant programs for youth and families affected by substance use.

The bill passed the Senate, and was approved by the House Health & Insurance committee on April 29. In the House, it’s sponsored by Singer and Rep. Bri Buentello, D-Pueblo.

Senate Bill 001

“Expand Medication-assisted Treatment Pilot Program” builds on a program launched in 2017, which increased access to medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for substance use disorders in Pueblo and Routt counties. This bill makes additional funding ($2.5 million a year) available for counties in the San Luis Valley, as well as two other counties that demonstrate a need for MAT. Sponsored by Sen. Leroy Garcia and Rep. Bri Buentello, both Democrats from Pueblo, the bill passed the House and Senate and awaits the governor’s signature.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to include information about Senate Bill 001.

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