Findings released on opioid and substance use disorder treatment in southwest Colorado


By Hailey Sams | SUN Intern

In 2021, opioid overdose deaths accounted for 68 percent of all drug overdose deaths in Colorado with 1,289 deaths, according to KFF, a policy analysis, polling, journalism and public health information organization.

The Region 9 Economic Development District of Southwest Colorado recently released the results of its feasibility report outlining opioid and other substance misuse gaps to help identify viable, sustainable, substance treatment solutions for our rural region. 

According to the press release, “The findings and recommendations will inform the Southwest Opioid Response District (SWORD) to administer opioid funding in the region.”

 SWORD, it explains, was formed as a requirement of the Colorado Opioid Settlement Memorandum of Understanding. 

The feasibility study and report was conducted and written by Health Management Associates (HMA), it notes. 

The findings in the Region 9 report show that opioid overdose deaths have increased dramatically since 2017 in southwest Colorado. 2021 showed the highest numbers, with half of all drug overdose deaths being opioids. 

Key findings

Key findings in the report include:

• An increasing trend in drug overdose deaths in Region 9, similar to trajectories seen statewide. 

• Opioid overdose-related deaths were higher in Region 9 than alcohol-related deaths. 

• The death rate from alcohol overdose was significantly higher in Region 9 than in the state. 

• Males had significantly higher drug overdose death rates than females. 

• Native American residents in Region 9 had a higher rate of overdose deaths compared with that of other Region 9 residents, driven in part by methamphetamines (or other psychostimulants) and alcohol.

Regional strengths

According to the report, Region 9 has several strengths when it comes to recovery and support for opioid and substance users:

• Peer-support models.

• Street medicine team, which provides care and resources for people experiencing homelessness.

• Committed organizations.

• Existing LGBTQ+ and tribal resources.

Regional gaps

The report also states that Region 9 has gaps that could limit recovery and support:

• Affordable housing.

• Living-wage jobs.

• Social/community connection.

• Access to treatment and recovery services for priority populations, including LGBTQ+ and Native American communities..

• Distance to services

Regional challenges

Region 9 has other challenges that make it more difficult for support and recovery, according to the report:

• Stigma continues to be a challenge throughout the region.

In the assessment of Southwestern Colorado Opioid Overdose Planning, when asked about stigma, about 10 percent suggested strong blame for individuals with substance use disorder (SUD). 

• Difficulty coordinating shared measurements for success.

Strengthening Region 9

The findings of the report help identify what needs to be done to improve Region 9 and provide better access and support for opioid and substance users. From the report, the recommendations for improving Region 9 are:

• Map the Region 9 SUD/opioid use disorder prevention, treatment and recovery ecosystem.

• Mobile methadone clinic. 

• Establish regional care compacts.

• Collaborate with the assessment work underway with tribal partners.

• Consider opportunities to collaborate with neighboring regions and tribal partners to improve feasibility estimates for inpatient residential, crisis stabilization, and other services and supports.

For more information

The report and report summary can be found at

Anyone interested in attending SWORD meetings or needing more information can call Region 9 at (970) 247-9621 or go to Contact Region 9 at