Column: Drug rehab providers in Colorado struggle to meet demand as the fentanyl epidemic continues

Michael Leach
Posted 10/11/22

Opiate addiction treatment facilities across the state are swamped with people asking for help. Individuals from all walks of life are asking for support, and many are entering facilities as they withdraw. 

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Column: Drug rehab providers in Colorado struggle to meet demand as the fentanyl epidemic continues

Posted

Opiate addiction treatment facilities across the state are swamped with people asking for help. Individuals from all walks of life are asking for support, and many are entering facilities as they withdraw. 

Colorado, like many other states, is witnessing an increased need for substance use treatment and mental health services post-pandemic. Experts feel that it will become busier if a new proposed state law passes that could send even more people into the state’s substance use treatment system. 

The state is battling the fentanyl epidemic, and part of the new bill would focus on anyone who was convicted of a fentanyl-related charge to be assessed and likely ordered to treatment. Court-ordered drug rehab is not unusual, and historically it has proven effective. 

Some studies have shown that court-ordered offenders were ten times more likely to complete treatment than those who entered drug rehab voluntarily. In Colorado, offenders could be ordered to an inpatient clinic or residential facility. 

“Substance use treatment and adequate aftercare support within the community remain the best option to ensure life-long sobriety,” said Marcel Gemme of Addicted.org. “It has been difficult for treatment providers post-pandemic. The gaps in the system became visible. In reality, there should be no argument surrounding getting people sober but solutions to ensure the support is available.”

In 2020, Colorado had the 29th highest rate of overdose deaths. The drastic increase in overdose deaths stems from the flood of prescription opioids in the 1990s and 2000s. Since 1999, overdose deaths in the state have been increasing. 

The sharp rise in overdose deaths in 2020 was due to the pandemic, which created social isolation, recession, changes to care delivery systems, and individuals using drugs alone. Using drugs alone was one of the most significant risk factors for experiencing a fatal drug overdose. 

Unfortunately, too many people are not accessing the rehabilitation they need or are unaware of accessible treatment options. 

Despite the potential for more courted-ordered drug rehab, many common barriers remain. Initially, there is the problem of inadequate or no health insurance, as health insurance alleviates much of the cost associated with treatment. 

In Colorado, roughly 50% of residents are insured through an employer, close to 17% have Medicaid, and 10% are uninsured. In addition, there is significant stigma where blame is placed on individuals who are addicted to drugs rather than focusing on helping them gain access to help. 

Like many other states, Colorado provides Naloxone, has medication take-back programs, receives grants and funding, and has harm reduction legislation. 

However, the best approaches remain education and prevention, residential or outpatient substance use treatment, and adequate aftercare support within the community. Historically, these have always proven effective in helping people achieve life-long sobriety. 

Residential treatment, for example, provides a significant benefit that medication alone cannot. It also provides the connection people need and teaches them how to live life again. The road to recovery takes time, but the result is a happy sober and drug-free life.

Michael Leach has spent most of his career as a health care professional specializing in Substance Use Disorder and addiction recovery. He is a Certified Clinical Assistant.

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