Denver Health’s Center for Addiction Medicine to Expand Services Thanks to Surge in Funding

April 7, 2022

Earmarked federal dollars, a grant from the Foundation for Opioid Response Efforts as well as a significant private gift all support expansion

The Denver Health Foundation received a $1.5 million grant award from the Foundation for Opioid Response Efforts (FORE) to support an expansion of Denver Health’s Center for Addiction Medicine (CAM). This grant adds to a $750,000 private gift secured in 2021 and $1.2 million received as part of U.S. Representative Diana DeGette’s housing, health care and mental health package—both of which will support the CAM Academy.

The CAM was established in 2019 in response to a growing epidemic of Opioid Use Disorder (OUD) and overall overdoses—a number that has increased 59% in Colorado since the COVID-19 pandemic began, according to Denver Health Director of Behavioral Health Services Dr. Christian Thurstone.

Preventing substance misuse and coordinating essential health services for persons with substance use disorders, the CAM is built on a fully integrated hub-and-spoke model, allowing mental health and addiction treatment providers to meet any person seeking help wherever they are in their journey to recovery. Providers are integrated within school clinics, community clinics, on ambulances, in jails, and throughout Denver Health’s main medical campus.

“Opioid use is a major concern for Denver Health,” says Dr. Thurstone. “With the priorities of our safety-net institution to provide behavioral health and medical care to all regardless of their ability to pay, about 60% of our patients come from under-served minority groups and live at or below 200% of the federal poverty level. As such, expanding CAM services has potential for enormous impact in opioid response and, also, health and racial equity.”

The system-wide continuum of care is a national model that has proven superior efficacy in identifying those with OUD, ensuring patients are stabilized and linking patients with ongoing compassionate substance treatment at the right level of integrated physical and behavioral health care.

The CAM expansion comes at a time when opioid use and overdoses—fueled by the dangerous synthetic opioid fentanyl—are soaring throughout Colorado and the nation. The $1.5 million FORE grant, Engaging and Empowering Vulnerable Families and Communities to Prevent Opioid Use Disorder and Overdose, allows Denver Health to address gaps in care for children whose parents have a substance use disorder by creating and integrating preventative services for children into Denver Health’s existing safety-net CAM hub-and-spoke treatment model. More information about the grant is available on the FORE website.

The CAM expansion will create a coordinated OUD care system for the entire family, including utilizing and linking primary care and school-based clinics to prevent and provide early treatment for psychiatric and substance use disorders among children of people with addiction. The first of its kind nationwide, the goal of this project is to provide “proof of concept” for nationwide replication.

“A key step in addressing the opioid crisis is to develop and implement programs to break the cycle of intergenerational addiction,” says FORE President Karen A. Scott, MD., MPH, of the grants given to Denver Health and eight other organizations. “These new prevention initiatives have great potential to help mitigate adverse childhood experiences that lead to emotional pain and trauma putting children at higher risk for opioid use disorders. They will also bring much needed interventions to diverse communities.”

The second funding source—a private gift of $750,000— provides programmatic funding for the first three years of launching the CAM Academy. The CAM Academy’s Goal is to provide education and consultation to health professionals and the community on how to implement comprehensive and coordinated trauma-informed treatment of substance use disorders. The CAM Academy aims to support Denver Health, Colorado, and the surrounding region in this important work.

In addition, $1.2 million of federal funding has been secured within nearly $13.3 million sought by U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette to fund 10 key projects designed to make more housing, health care and mental health services available throughout the Denver area. This money will cover expenses to renovate a former treatment facility into a new space to house the CAM Academy resources and to supplement additional programmatic funding needed for the first five years of programming.

“We are so grateful for these generous investments in our CAM programs, which will allow us to increase access to addiction medicine services in the community while addressing the root causes of health and well-being for patients and their families,” says Judith Shlay, MD, Medical Director, Denver Health Center for Addiction Medicine.

About the Center for Addiction Medicine at Denver Health

The Center for Addiction Medicine (CAM) has been an agency-wide strategic initiative for Denver Health since 2018. The goal of CAM is to coordinate the essential health services for persons with substance use disorders. CAM has successfully implemented a hub-and-spoke model of addiction medicine that identifies, treats, and links patients to the appropriate level of care, regardless of where patients enter our system. CAM includes coordinated addiction services from Denver Health’s hospital and emergency departments, community-based clinics, specialized outpatient treatment and residential services, as well as partnerships with community programs.

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