Legislators to vote Oct. 3 on bills to introduce addressing drug crisis
At an interim committee meeting Tuesday, state legislators moved a step closer to introducing a new package of bills on substance abuse and gave updates on the rough framework of bills they hope to bring in the 2019 legislative session. The committee will vote on the bills to introduce at its Oct. 3 meeting. At a session in late August, the members voted to draft measures under the broad umbrellas of treatment, recovery, harm reduction, prevention and criminal justice.
Committee chair Rep. Brittany Pettersen acknowledged the bill drafts are far from finalized, and the legislators will meet with stakeholder groups in several sessions before Oct. 3 to hash out gaps in each bill.
Rep. Chris Kennedy said the bill draft for addressing substance abuse treatment has three main components. One prong would implement a comprehensive capacity-tracking system, based on a recommendation from Mental Health Colorado, to keep track of what treatment programs have availability to take new patients. He said the role different organizations and departments will play, such as Mental Health Colorado and the Office of Behavioral Health, is still in discussion.
“Even when people are ready to seek services, they don’t always know where to go,” Kennedy said. “Sometimes they go to places where the see a big ‘no vacancy’ sign, figuratively speaking of course.”
Another component based on a recommendation from Mental Health Colorado is a care coordination entity to centralize an initial step in getting substance abuse treatment. A potential patient would call the existing mental health crisis number and receive an assessment to determine the types of treatment they need.
Kennedy said the bill’s third component aims to close funding gaps such as those around medically managed substance withdrawal or detox. He said an 1115 waiver currently pending from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which would allow Colorado to include some substance abuse treatment services in its Medicaid program, should bring in money from increased state investment in expanded services Medicaid could provide under the waiver.
“But that is still potentially a couple of years away,” he said. “These waiver processes take a long time.” The treatment bill asks for $5 million for the Office of Behavioral Health to use as a grant program to build capacity and infrastructure for state-funded treatment in the meantime.