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Denver Opioid Response Strategic Plan: An Insider's Take

An image from the Denver Opioid Response Strategic Plan.
An image from the Denver Opioid Response Strategic Plan. City of Denver
Like so many cities across the country, Denver is suffering from an opioid crisis, with the number of individuals in the city using heroin and other opiates, and sometimes dying as a result, reaching new and increasingly worrisome levels.

The recently issued Denver Opioid Strategic Response Plan is an attempt to stem the epidemic, and Lisa Raville, executive director of the Harm Reduction Action Center, who participated in the report, sees it as a step toward helping those with addictions rather than demeaning them.

"I appreciate that there was a common thread about stigma and how that's harming folks," Raville says of the document. "The plan goes through the spectrum of prevention, harm reduction and treatment, and those subjects are so large that chipping away at them will take a lot of time. But I'm pleased that there's the intention to reduce the stigma for drug users in our community."

According to Raville, meetings related to the plan got under way "last September or October, and they did a really good job of getting a lot of stakeholders to the table multiple times: City of Denver agencies, mental health providers, myself, the library, the district attorney's office, law enforcement. The first couple of meetings were kind of state-of-the-city — figuring out where we're at and where we're trying to go. And they they started firming it up."


click to enlarge A graphic showing resources available to individuals with opioid addiction included in the Denver Opioid Response Strategic Plan. - CITY OF DENVER
A graphic showing resources available to individuals with opioid addiction included in the Denver Opioid Response Strategic Plan.
City of Denver
The completed plan identifies three primary goals: "Prevent Substance (Mis)use," "Improve Treatment Access and Retention" and "Reduce Harm." Under these headings are multiple strategies for achieving the assorted targets, as seen in the following excerpts:

PREVENT SUBSTANCE (MIS)USE

STRATEGY A: Enhance capacity for effective prevention programming
STRATEGY B: Promote medication safety
STRATEGY C: Provide peer recovery support services

• Increase the number of providers delivering evidence-based programs on adverse childhood events and trauma
• Increase the percentage of youth who report having a parent or adult they can talk to or go to for help
• Reduce the percentage of people who self-report experiencing stigma within the past month
• Reduce the percentage of people who report misusing substances in past year/past 30 days
• Reduce the percentage of patients receiving opioids in emergency departments
• Reduce the number of patients receiving overlapping opioid prescriptions
• Reduce the number of patients with overlapping opioid & benzodiazepine prescriptions
• Increase the number of agencies/providers that provide peer recovery services

IMPROVE TREATMENT ACCESS AND RETENTION

STRATEGY A: Increase participation/enrollment of people with substance use disorders (SUD) in treatment services
STRATEGY B: Increase retention of people with substance use disorders in treatment services

• Increase the number of people enrolled in treatment for SUD
• Increase the number of people seeking SUD treatment enrolled within 24 hours
• Decrease the number of repeat treatment admissions over calendar year

REDUCE HARM

STRATEGY A: Reduce rate of overdose deaths
STRATEGY B: Improve health outcomes among people who use drugs
STRATEGY C: Implement innovative service facilities

• Increase the number of sharps collected at public kiosks
• Decrease the number of improperly discarded sharps in the community
• Decrease the number of fatal overdoses
• Decrease the number of nonfatal overdoses
• Decrease the number of new HIV cases attributable to drug use
• Decrease the number of HCV cases
• Increase the number of people who use substances who are retained in health care
• Increase the number of people utilizing innovative facilities
• Increase the number of facilities offering new or innovative services
• Reduce the number of emergency department visits and hospital discharges related to substance use
Some of the action items represent "things the city is already doing," Raville acknowledges. "And you always want to have a prevention element. But I was especially appreciative that there was a lot of support for harm reduction in general. Harm reduction is definitely becoming a priority, and I think now cities and states across the country are starting to realize that they need to be working with people today for a healthier and safer them."

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts