Steamboat Pilot, May 2019 – Gov. Polis signed a bill into law that will expand a medication-assisted treatment program to help people recover from substance abuse, including in Routt County.
File photo/John F. Russell
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Gov. Jared Polis signed a bill into law May 14 to help expand a Routt County pilot program into other counties to treat people with substance abuse problems.
Senate Bill 19-001 will allocate $5 million annually through marijuana tax dollars to fund medication-assisted addiction treatment programs in eight additional counties in the San Luis Valley. Local caregivers also hope it will make treatments more affordable for patients in and around Steamboat Springs.
“This will help more families in Colorado break that vicious cycle of addiction using new technology and data-driven methods in medically assisted treatment,” Polis said before signing the bill at a recovery clinic in Pueblo.
That includes families in Routt County, where overdose rates have increased six-fold from 2014 to 2016.
Statewide, more than 550 people died from opioid overdoses in 2017, according to the Colorado Department of Human Services.
The program’s expansion comes after pilot programs in Routt and Pueblo counties have seen high demand in patients seeking treatment and success in treating their addictions.
Nancy Beste, who started the first medication-assisted treatment in Steamboat through her clinic, Road to Recovery, currently has about 95 patients suffering from a range of substance abuse disorders, from opioids to methamphetamine.
While the service has only been around for a little over a year, Beste has observed a recovery rate of about 90% among her patients.
“This program is working better than any program I’ve ever seen,” she said during an interview in February.
How it works
Medication-assisted treatments use opioid antagonists like naltrexone and buprenorphine, which help to assuage some of the cravings and side effects — aches, vomiting and the like — that come when someone tries to stop using a highly addictive substance, like heroin or meth.
“You never feel high from it,” Beste explained of the medications. “It just covers the receptors and makes it so they don’t have withdrawals.”
One of the patients who has benefitted from the program is local resident Melinda McDowell. A mother of three, McDowell has struggled with substance abuse on and off for more than 20 years.
She lost custody of her children after relapsing into meth addiction in the wake of her mother’s death in 2017.
That became a wake-up call for McDowell, who sought treatment with Road to Recovery last May. After a single dose of Vivitrol, a brand name for naltrexone, her cravings disappeared almost immediately.
A day passed, and she managed to stay sober. Then another day. And another.
On May 21, McDowell celebrated one year of sobriety.
She has since become a poster child of the success of medication-assisted treatments, advocating for the recently passed bill outside the capitol and helping fellow patients with their own recoveries. For McDowell, it has been empowering to become part of something larger than herself.
“A year ago I was sitting on my bathroom floor smoking meth,” she said. “Now, I helped get a bill passed.”
McDowell is one among many recovering addicts in Routt County who do not have insurance to help pay for her addiction medications, which can be costly.
A single Vivitrol injection, which is usually administered monthly, costs about $1,100, according to Beste.
A local substance abuse organization, West Slope Casa, has helped pay for many patients’ treatments, including McDowell’s, but a deficit remains.
While funds for the bill have not yet been allocated, Beste hopes some money will go toward helping those without payment options get the medications they need to stay sober.
Beste also hopes additional funding will bring more treatment providers to the area. Other health care professionals have become qualified to prescribe and administer addiction medications, but Road to Recovery is still the primary provider by a large margin.
“There’s way too many patients for me to see here,” Beste said, and new ones come in every week.
Embarking on her second year of sobriety, McDowell wants to continue being an inspiration for others to overcome addiction. She plans to become a certified addiction counselor and is waiting to hear back about a retrial that would allow her to get her kids back.
Until then, she is focusing on enjoying the simple things she never could as an addict — walking along the Yampa River, for example, or staring at the night sky to marvel at the expanse of stars.
“I may be 45 years old, but I’m just starting my life,” McDowell said. “And it’s a good life so far.”