Proposed Sales Tax Would Fund Mental Health and Substance Abuse Treatment

Proposed Sales Tax Would Fund Mental Health and Substance Abuse Treatment
Resources to treat mental-health issues and substance abuse are woefully limited in Colorado.

One in every ten residents lives in a place with little or no access to medication-assisted substance-abuse treatment, while across the state, communities both rural and urban struggle with an ever-expanding opioid epidemic. Treatment for mental-health issues is so scarce, more patients in Colorado must go out of network to find doctors than do patients in most other states. And last year, Arapahoe House, the state's largest drug-and-alcohol treatment center, closed after more than forty years.

But the proposed state budget includes little to no additional funds for these services, leaving municipalities around Colorado to fend for themselves.

Caring 4 Denver hopes to get an initiative on the November ballot in Denver County that would increase the sales tax to help fund local mental-health and substance-abuse treatment services, such as suicide-prevention programs and detox. The ballot's backers are still working on its language, but the increase would amount to 25 cents per every $100 spent, raising about $45 million a year, and would last ten years. A community board with representatives from Denver Public Schools, Denver Health, law enforcement and other groups would oversee the funds and dole out grants to existing groups as well as new initiatives.

Representative Leslie Herod, a Democrat from Denver, announced the push for the new ballot measure today, April 5, at the Capitol. She said that a recent poll showed that eight out of ten voters in Denver would support the ballot initiative. "People who know they need help can't get it," she added.

At the announcement, Andrew Romanoff, who served in the state legislature from 2001 to 2009 and now leads Mental Health Colorado, said that increasing taxes would actually save money in the long term, since today people who need mental-health and substance-abuse treatment services instead land in what's readily available: emergency medical services and jails, which are costly in and of themselves.

Last year, over 73 percent of voters in Eagle County approved a ballot initiative to allocate a portion of marijuana tax revenue to mental-health and substance-abuse programs. Romanoff, who lobbied for the ballot initiative, told county commissioners there not to wait for "Washington to solve this problem," he recalled.

"It's cheaper to treat mental-health issues than not," Romanoff said of the Caring 4 Denver effort.
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Ana Campbell has been Westword's managing editor since 2016. She has worked at magazines and newspapers around the country, picking up a few awards along the way for her writing and editing. She grew up in south Texas.
Contact: Ana Campbell