Opioid treatment in southern Colorado top priority at legislature

Posted at 5:45 PM, Jan 14, 2019

COLORADO- The top priority in Colorado’s Senate this legislative session focuses on a growing issue across the nation and the state: the opioid epidemic.

In 2017, state lawmakers approved funding to allocate money in Routt and Pueblo counties for medication assisted treatment (MAT).

Through grant programs, it expanded access for treatment and gave experience to nurse practitioners and physician assistants.

In Pueblo county, one of the groups that benefited included Colorado Treatment Services- where they see more than 200 patients at a time in its Pueblo facility.

With many people walking away with success stories, it’s captured the attention of the lawmaker who created the original bill in 2017: newly elected Senate President Leroy Garcia.

In Garcia’s opening day remarks, he noted the importance of addressing the opioid epidemic. Saying the General Assembly needed to look at ‘solutions that build on the steps that we have taken to address the opioid epidemic by making greater investments in programs that have a proven track record for success.’

Moments later, the first bill of the session was announced as an extension of the programs already in Pueblo county, sponsored by Pres. Garcia.

The bill addresses the need for medication assisted treatment in the San Luis Valley, identifying Alamosa, Conejos, Costilla, Custer, , Huerfano, Mineral, Rio Grande, and Saguache counties.

In Pueblo county, workers at facilities such as Colorado Treatment Services believe their programs are effective because they utilize MAT and mental health resources.

‘More and more research shows that this particular approach to treatment is much more sustainable long-term,’ said Clinton Nicholson, Clinical Specialist with Colorado Treatment Services.

Nicholson oversees the patients that come into the center’s in Pueblo, Colorado Springs, and Greeley.

He says seeing the improvement of the patients, is rewarding ‘it’s a complete take-back, again people have really owned their lives, they’ve reengaged with their families, they’ve reengaged with their friends, they’ve reengaged by starting paths to education, but most importantly they’ve reengaged with themselves.’

Additionally, the center’s Executive Director, Perla Ramirez-Groothuis. says there’s a growing need throughout the state and often times they see people traveling all across the state to come to its facilities.

‘It’s getting worse just given the amount of young individuals that are coming into treatment,’ said Ramirez-Groothuis.

For Nicholson, who received his Masters degree in Alamosa- he says he sees the need for more treatment programs in the San Luis Valley.

‘It’s a very isolated area, I think isolated areas often become under served populations,’ said Nicholson.

Additionally, this past Saturday experts met in Huerfano county to discuss the need for resources in the area.

Something lawmakers recognize. According to the bill being discussed this session, Heurfano county saw more overdose deaths than anywhere else in the state, with 6 overdose deaths.