Marijuana tax dollars could be used to fight opioid epidemic in Routt County |

Marijuana tax dollars could be used to fight opioid epidemic in Routt County

A bill awaiting Gov. John Hickenlooper's signature would bring $1 million in resources to help fight the opioid epidemic in Routt and Pueblo counties.

The money would come from marijuana tax revenues collected by the state and would be spread out over two years.

The legislation comes after a series of conversations in the Steamboat Springs area led by the local Rx Task Force.

"We heard loud and clear that we need more resources," said Ken Davis, co-founder of the Task Force and a physician assistant with Northwest Colorado Health.

The funds would go toward piloting a medication-assisted treatment program aimed at getting opioid addicts help.

"This piece of legislation is a direct effect of the efforts of the Rx Task Force," Davis said.

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The funds would distributed by the University of Colorado College of Nursing in the form of grants to community and office-based practices, behavioral health organizations and substance abuse treatment organizations.

The program is aimed at having an impact in communities hit hardest by the opioid epidemic.

Pueblo has 6 percent of the state's population but accounts for 18 percent of admissions for heroin treatment, according to the legislation.

In Routt, drug overdose death rates have increased six-fold from 2014 to 2016. More than 65 percent of the deaths were related to prescription opioids.

Despite the prevalence of the opioid addiction in the counties, there are only three doctors in Pueblo and one doctor in Routt who are able to provide medication-assisted treatment, according to the legislation.

Davis said many doctors with busy family practices shy away from providing the treatment because it takes time, and the patients suffering from withdrawal can be agitated, impatient and difficult to deal with.

"To keep that population sitting in your waiting room where other people are coming in can be very disruptive," Davis said.

Davis said some people who seek treatment have to travel outside Routt County.

"There are people that are getting this treatment, but they're having to drive, and that just seems wrong that we can't provide that kind of therapy," Davis said.

The legislation aims to provide funding so nurse practitioners and physician assistants can receive the training that would allow them to prescribe buprenorphine and other medications approved by the Food and Drug Administration for treating drug addiction.

Davis has ideas for grants that Routt County could pursue, like start-up money for a clinic that specializes in drug treatment as well as support for counseling.

"I would love to see some funding used for people who have no resources to pay for treatment," Davis said.

Senate Bill 74 anonymously passed both the House and the Senate.

"I strongly supported the bill," said State Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush, D-Steamboat Springs.

The bill was sent to Hickenlooper for a signature May 19.

Hickenlooper's office did not return messages seeking comment.

To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247, email or follow him on Twitter @SBTStensland