Out Of Money, Major Colorado Substance Abuse Treatment Center To Close

(AP Photo)
Opioid tablets.
Photo: Opioid Tablets (AP)
Opioid tablets.

Posted 12:30 p.m. 12/15 | Updated 12:58 p.m. 12/18

A Colorado lawmaker is making a last ditch effort to save the state's largest addiction treatment provider. Democratic state Rep. Brittany Pettersen is speaking with the governor's office to find emergency funding to keep the non-profit operating.

"We have a 1331 fund, it's an emergency response fund that we've used for floods, for fires. This fund exists because when things are happening when the legislature is not actually in session that we can react as we need to," she told Colorado Matters.

Our original story continues below:

Colorado’s largest provider of treatment services for people dealing with substance abuse issues will close its doors on Jan. 2, 2018.

Arapahoe House has a number locations throughout metro Denver and serves 5,000 patients per year, the organization said in announcing its impending closure. It cited a lack of funding from state and federal government.

“There’s a tremendous need for some sort of treatment. But the funding is not commensurate with the need,” Mike Butler, president and CEO of Arapahoe House, told CPR News. “There’s no question that Arapahoe House closing will impact this vulnerable population.”

The announcement comes as deaths linked to drugs have risen dramatically in the state. In 2016 alone, 912 people died from overdoses in Colorado. In contrast, about 600 people died on Colorado’s roads that year.

The decision to shutter the 42-year-old organization was approved by its board during a tearful meeting Wednesday, said state Sen. Cheri Jahn, D-Wheat Ridge, who was there.

"I don't think I've ever had to make a vote as a board member that was as painful as this one was,” she said. “It was a horrible, horrible vote."

Jahn, who joined the board last spring, commended the organization’s leadership. Butler took over as CEO early in 2016 and quickly realized Arapahoe House was on an unsustainable path, Jahn said. Some programs were eliminated to cut costs. But in the end that wasn’t enough to balance the books.

"The funding has not kept pace,” Jahn said, pointing the finger at low Medicaid reimbursement rates. “We have a national emergency, and we were so happy to hear the president jump on board and say, 'OK, this is a crisis. We have a national emergency.' But no dollars came with that.”

“Quite honestly, we’re out of reserves,” Butler said.

The facility will no longer accept new patients. Arapahoe House staff, and officials from the state Department of Human Services, are working with other service providers to help patients continue their treatment. The organization has enough money left to pay its approximately 200 employees until operations cease Jan. 2, Jahn said.

The state legislature in 2015 passed a bill that dedicates $12 million every year to support prevention, treatment and recovery. And Congress passed a sweeping measure in 2016 that sends $15.6 million to Colorado over a two-year period to help address the opioid crisis, the state Department of Human Services said.

“Yet, it’s clear that the need for services outpaces the resources available to provide them,” Robert Werthwein, director of the Office of Behavioral Health at the Colorado Department of Human Services, said in a statement.

CPR's Michelle Fulcher contributed to this report.

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated how many locations Arapahoe House has. There are seven, not three.