Senate Bill 1 to Build on Success of the MAT Pilot Program to Tackle Opioid Epidemic Across Colorado

January 24, 2019

Denver, CO – Colorado Senate Democrats today released data and testimony from theMedication Assisted Treatment (MAT) pilot program (SB17-074), which show the program has helped hundreds of Coloradans struggling with opioid addiction get the treatment they need.

“We are very proud of the initial results and know that the pilot program is making a profound impact in these communities and in the lives of those struggling with opioid addiction. I look forward to continuing to invest in programs with a proven record of success to ensure that we are helping Coloradans and communities across this state fight back against this terrible epidemic,” said President Leroy M. Garcia.  

The early patient outcomes of the MAT program have been promising. More than 90 percent of patients with follow-up data reported abstinence from all opioids and alcohol for at least 30 days, and nearly half reported they had some paid employment and were in good or excellent health.

The programs have also seen a dramatic increase in the number of Coloradans treated. In Pueblo County, the number of clients provided MAT services increased from 99 clients at both agencies in 2017 to 691 clients in 2018. In Routt County, which had no services for MAT clients in 2017, 60 clients were provided MAT services in 2018.

During the first year of the Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) pilot program, two MAT programs in Pueblo County were selected to receive funding and one MAT program was launched in Routt County, overseen by the CU-College of Nursing with ongoing input provided by the Pilot MAT Community Advisory Board.

Over the course of the first year, there were five X-waivered providers for programs in Pueblo County and four X-waivered providers in Routt County designated as Advanced Practice Providers (NP/PA) who are able to prescribe medications to treat opioid use disorder. These numbers include only those providers who received funding as part of the grant, not the total number of providers who received an X-waiver. In addition, provider-level education on Opiate Use Disorders and related issues in assessment and treatment was given to 102 prescribing providers in 2018.

These three programs also utilized cognitive behavioral therapy, family therapy, and other group and therapeutic modalities to increase engagement in services and active treatments towards days without opiate use.

In 2016, there were 536 opioid-related overdose deaths in Colorado, a rate of 9.5 deaths per 100,000 persons, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. In 2017, there were 558 opioid overdose deaths from both prescription opioids and illegal opioids such as heroin, according to the Colorado Department of Human Services.

Given the initial success of this program and the severity of opioid addiction across the state, Senate President Leroy M. Garcia sponsored and introduced Senate Bill 1 on January 4, 2019 to provide $5 million dollars in funding through marijuana tax dollars to rapidly expand this program across the state to help Coloradans battling opioid addiction in the highest need counties.

“As a paramedic, I have seen the effects of the drug epidemic firsthand and I can tell you that it’s a huge problem that demands serious action,” said President Garcia. “Hundreds of Coloradans die every year at the hands of opioids while countless others struggle with abuse and addiction. The epidemic is devastating communities across this state, and that is why we made it a top priority for the Senate.”

The ten counties in Colorado with the highest rate of overdose deaths in 2016 — according to an April 2018 report by the Colorado Health Institute — include Huerfano, Rio Blanco, Las Animas, Montezuma, Rio Grande, Conejos, Fremont, Pueblo, Logan, and Routt Counties. Senate Bill 1 will expand MAT programs to counties in the San Luis Valley as well as two additional counties in the state.

“Senate Bill 1 is a very significant investment in addressing one of the most serious problems in Colorado: access to Medication Assisted Treatment for opioid use disorder, particularly in rural parts of our state. It builds upon a successful pilot program, which has increased the number of MAT providers and patients served in Pueblo and Routt counties. Expanding this program to 12 counties will increase access for our highest need areas, train additional providers in MAT, get more patients into treatment, and save lives. We are thrilled to have Senate President Garcia’s continued leadership on this issue,” said Robert Valuck, PhD, RPh, Director of the Colorado Consortium for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention, and a professor at the University of Colorado Skaggs School of Pharmacy at the Anschutz Medical Campus.

Below are several testimonies from MAT program participants and care providers; however, names have been removed in order to protect their identities:

“I have a new job, my own apartment, was able to grieve a recent loss appropriately without using drugs, and can now focus on my two children. I now lead a healthy life, like normal people do,” said a participant from Pueblo County.

“I tried and tried to get sober on numerous occasions, but could not quit this horrible drug. I would literally feel like I was going to die. The staff literally saved my life. Not only was I able to get the medical treatment I needed, but I also got additional help from support groups. I am now seven months sober thanks to this program,” said a participant from Routt County.

“Today, both my patient and my patient’s mother said, ‘we don’t know what we would have done if you were not available to see me today. We had called several other places and no one is accepting new patients until mid-February. You saved his life and our family,’” said a practitioner in Pueblo County.

In addition to expanding and increasing funding for the MAT program, Senate Bill 1 would also shift the administration of the program from the College of Nursing to the center for research into substance abuse disorder prevention, treatment, and recovery support strategies, expanding the work that the College of Nursing is doing and adding additional disciplines and communities from around the state and on the Anschutz Campus.

Read the full text of the bill here.