In rural Colorado, the battle against substance abuse has reached a critical juncture. Government officials, health providers, and community leaders recently convened with U.S. Senator John Hickenlooper to address the escalating drug problems, as well as the lack of resources and access times to providers. The roundtable discussion sheds light on the urgent need for transportation to treatment centers, the importance of local detoxification and treatment facilities, and the challenges posed by a shortage of licensed practitioners. Additionally, the participants stressed the importance of early education and intervention, while also advocating for increased federal funding to tackle these pressing issues.

Transportation Barrier: Bridging the Gap to Treatment

One of the immediate concerns raised during the meeting was the lack of accessible treatment facilities for substance abusers in rural areas. Dave Long, the director of Logan County Human Services, highlighted the daunting challenge patients face when the nearest detoxification center is over 140 miles away. This creates a significant hurdle, not only in terms of distance but also time and resources. The current system forces patients to endure a 2 ½-hour trip to Greeley for treatment, without any guarantee of admission. This underscores the pressing need for improved transportation options, ensuring that those seeking help can access it more easily.

Local Detoxification and Treatment Centers: A Long-Term Solution

While immediate transportation solutions are critical, a more sustainable approach lies in establishing local detoxification and treatment centers staffed by licensed practitioners. Dante Gonzales, CEO of Centennial Mental Health, emphasized the importance of having psychiatrists who can provide in-person care, especially considering the new proposed federal regulations that restrict remote prescription of vital medications. However, the shortage of psychiatrists in rural areas poses a significant challenge. State Senator Byron Pelton shared insights into the efforts to identify potential young psychiatrists willing to practice in their hometowns. Yet, the financial burden associated with hiring fully accredited psychiatrists remains a hurdle that needs to be addressed.

Shifting Perspectives: The Role of Education

Participants acknowledged that addressing substance abuse must begin with education. Some students are exposed to substances in schools as early as third grade, therefore conversations about drug abuse should start around the age of exposure. Initiating these discussions at a young age could help instill awareness and prevent the development of harmful habits. This substantiates the necessity of early interventions embedded within the school systems. Yuma County Commissioner Scott Weaver highlighted that this leniency undermines efforts to deter early drug use and its consequences. 

Federal Funding: A Beacon of Hope

The roundtable participants recognized the need for increased federal funding to effectively combat substance abuse in rural areas. Advantage Treatment Center Clinical Director Sarah Stangebye talked about the positive impact Medicaid coverage had during the Covid-19 Pandemic. Senator Hickenlooper acknowledged the budget constraints but expressed optimism that existing resources could be redirected to address this crisis. He mentioned the potential utilization of funds from the Inflation Reduction Act to support these initiatives. While acknowledging the historical skepticism of rural communities towards federal intervention, he highlighted the growing realization that collaboration between local and federal entities is essential to overcome substance abuse challenges.


In conclusion, the roundtable with Senator Hickenlooper brought to light the critical need for immediate solutions to the transportation barrier, as well as long-term strategies for establishing local treatment facilities and addressing the shortage of licensed practitioners. Early education emerged as a powerful tool in preventing substance abuse among young individuals. The discussions underscored the urgency of federal funding to drive meaningful change and emphasized the importance of bridging the gap between rural communities and the federal government. By working together, Colorado can pave the way for a comprehensive approach to battling substance abuse and fostering healthier communities for generations to come. Advantage Treatment Centers was proud to be a part of this important conversation and value our local communities.  

Addressing Substance Abuse Challenges in Rural Colorado: A Call for Federal Support<br />