As the opioid crisis continues to impact communities in Colorado, individuals with an opioid use disorder are seeking treatment. The University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus is helping lead the way to increase access to medication-assisted treatment, also known as MAT.

The University of Colorado Center for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention, which is part of the University of Colorado Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, and the University of Colorado College of Nursing are pleased to announce the award of grant funds to health care organizations to serve people with opioid use disorders in 16 counties.

A life-changing program

Between December 2017 and June 2019, the College of Nursing administered a successful MAT pilot program in Pueblo and Routt counties with funds from the Colorado General Assembly, resulting in 1,005 individuals receiving MAT and behavioral therapy services through three health care settings. The main medications used are buprenorphine, also known as Suboxone, and naltrexone, also known as Vivitrol, which reduce withdrawal symptoms and control cravings.

The program showed life-changing results.

“MAT changed my life by giving me the treatment and support I needed to take care of my health, control my use disorder, and begin recovery,” said Ashley McAuliffe, who received treatment from Mountain Medical Road to Recovery program in Steamboat Springs, which received funding as part of the pilot program. “Suboxone helped me come off of heavy opioid abuse. I’m exercising now and taking care of myself. So many people need this service.”

McAuliffe’s story is an example of how MAT can help people turn their lives around, according to Tanya Sorrell, PHD, a CU School of Nursing associate professor.

“The program helps them sober up, return to work and their families, and become contributing members of society again. We’re helping them get their lives back,” said Tanya Sorrell, PhD, a CU School of Nursing associate professor.

Building on success

The success of this pilot attracted the attention of Colorado Senate President Leroy Garcia, who introduced as a top legislative priority Senate Bill 1 of the 2019 legislative session for continuation and expansion of MAT services. The bill, which Gov. Jared Polis signed in May, allocated $5 million for a two-year period to the Center for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention to work in association with the College of Nursing to expand access to MAT in the San Luis Valley and in two additional counties with high rates of opioid overdose.

About 47,000 people in Colorado have an opioid use disorder, according to a 2018 study by the Colorado Health Institute.

“The opioid epidemic is a statewide crisis, and rural and frontier communities have been hit hard. In these areas, there is a shortage of providers able to prescribe treatments that have been proven scientifically to be safe and effective,” said Dr. Robert Valuck, a professor at the CU School of Pharmacy and the director of the Center for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention. “Expanding this program will make it easier for people to get the treatment they need.”

Funding recipients

The following organizations will receive Year 1 funds and technical assistance to implement MAT and behavioral therapy services:

  • $50,000 to Providence Recovery Services/Memorial Regional Hospital (Moffat and Rio Blanco counties)
  • $100,000 to Colorado Treatment Services (Pueblo County)
  • $140,000 to Health Solutions (Pueblo County)
  • $140,000 to Mountain Medical Road to Recovery (Routt County)
  • $150,000 to Front Range Clinic (Mesa County)
  • $155,760 to River Valley Family Health Centers (Montrose and Delta counties)
  • $353,470 to Las Animas Huerfano Counties District Health Department (Las Animas and Huerfano counties)
  • $875,000 to Valley-Wide Health System, Inc (Alamosa, Costilla, Conejos, Custer, Mineral, Rio Grande and Saguache counties)

Representatives of the organizations receiving funding believe it will have a major impact in their communities.

“Valley-Wide Health Systems is grateful and excited to be awarded the MAT expansion grant and to work in collaboration with SLV Health, Rio Grande Hospital, SLV Behavioral Health Group, and SolVista Health,” said Jania Arnoldi, CEO, Valley-Wide Health Systems, Inc. “This collaborative will use Senate Bill 1 funding to increase access to and coordination of care throughout the San Luis Valley for the benefit of anyone seeking treatment for substance use disorder.”

Services based on the awarded funding are scheduled to begin in January 2020.

About the University of Colorado Center for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention

The University of Colorado Center for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention helps coordinate Colorado’s statewide response to the prescription drug abuse epidemic, focusing on the opioid crisis. The center works with stakeholders such as government agencies, community groups, law enforcement and the medical community. The center is the home of the Colorado Consortium for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention and is part of the University of Colorado Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences at the CU Anschutz Medical Campus.

About the University of Colorado College of Nursing

Since its inception in 1898, the University of Colorado College of Nursing has been a leader in nursing education.  During its 120-year history, the College has experienced many firsts including the birthplace of the Nurse Practitioner and the Centers for Nursing Research and Human Caring, as well as innovative nurse-led clinical practice sites. Today, CU Nursing prepares leaders in clinical nursing, research and community service; integrates the delivery of exemplary healthcare; discovers and translates new knowledge to improve health in Colorado and beyond.