Senate Bill 19-001, which would expand an opioid addiction treatment program currently offered in two Colorado counties, unanimously passed in the Colorado Senate and was introduced into the House on Friday. The bill is cosponsored by Rep. Bri Buentello, who represents Otero County, and Sen. Leroy Garcia.

The bill expands the Medication-Assisted Treatment Pilot Program in Pueblo and Routt counties that was created in 2017 and is administered by the University of Colorado College of Nursing. That act directed the general assembly to annually appropriate $500,000 to the program, which expires June 30, 2020.

In 2018, nearly 700 Pueblo County residents dealing with opioid addiction got help through the pilot program. In 2017, there were 558 opioid overdose deaths in Colorado from legal and illegal opioids, including heroin, according to information provided in the bill.

The proposed legislation would increase the annual appropriation to $2.5 million, continue the program for an additional two years and expand it to counties in the San Luis Valley, as well as two additional, yet-to-be-determined counties where need is demonstrated.

"The opioid crisis has wreaked havoc across rural Southern Colorado, leaving Pueblo, Otero and Huerfano counties with epidemic-level overdose death rates," said Buentello in a prepared statement.

"State-wide, those rates increased 68 percent between 2002 and 2014 (source: Colorado Health Institute), but the catastrophe was largely ignored in counties with small populations. This is because overdose rates are measured in deaths-per-100,000.

"So while a county like Huerfano might 'only' have 11 deaths in a given year, that translates to a horrific toll when calculated against a population of 6,000.

"The primary focus of SB19-001 is to expand disorder prevention, treatment, and recovery support strategies into several more rural Southern Colorado counties."

The bill would also shift responsibility for administering the program from the CU's College of nursing to the school's center for research into substance use disorder prevention, treatment, and recovery support strategies.

The MAT program combines behavioral therapy and medications to provide a whole-patient approach to the treatment of substance use disorders. 

The bill was assigned to the House Public Healthcare and Human Services Committee, where it is scheduled to be heard on Friday.

"(The bill) is expected to receive the same strong bipartisan support in the House as it did in the Senate," said Buentello.