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Denver Health expands care as fentanyl overdoses continue to climb

Denver Health Paramedics
Posted at 10:17 PM, Aug 15, 2023

DENVER — Denver is on track to see a record number of fatal overdoses this year.

There have been 187 fatal fentanyl overdoses in the first eight months of 2023, compared to last year’s total of 244.

Those numbers translate to a greater need for care. Denver Health has responded by expanding its 24/7 methadone treatment program and changing the way medical staff use medications to treat patients.

“Reversal agents that we use, like Narcan, have to be given in a higher dose when patients are using fentanyl," said Scott Simpson, medical director for Psychiatric Emergency Services at Denver Health. "We've also tried new strategies. We're using not only Suboxone, but also methadone to help people who want a treatment.”

Simpson said not only is the hospital seeing more patients, but half of those patients are struggling with both fentanyl and methamphetamine-use.

“We see people who are coming in with more severe addiction. They're having a harder time getting control of their use. They're having more severe behavioral manifestations, meaning they're having worse mood symptoms. They're having suicidal thoughts when they're using or withdrawing from opioids,” Simpson said.

KFF, a health policy research group, released data from a poll that aimed to examine the impact of the opioid crisis on U.S. families. According to the group, half of survey participants who said they or a family member experienced addiction reported ever receiving treatment.


Denver Health started its "no wrong door" approach to provide easier access to treatment. Under the policy, those in need can go to any Denver Health clinic, medical provider or emergency facility in order to be connected to treatment and recovery services.

“We need to be thoughtful that we can provide addiction treatment in any setting, any outpatient clinic, any emergency department or urgent care when you're ready to get it. And I think that there's, we've been so challenged in Colorado because we have siloed care for medical, for behavior, for psychiatric needs, for addiction needs,” Simpson said.

The Center for Addiction Medicine at Denver Health had 91,000 substance-related visits in 2022. Simpson said about 20 percent of the patients he sees are experiencing homelessness.

“We also treat, you know, young people who are, you know, back home from college, and they're struggling and they've relapsed, and they need to get started — or their parents and family have brought them in. We see people who are professionals and working and you might not even realize that they are struggling with an addiction,” Simpson said.

If you or a loved one needs help, you can call the Denver Health Center for Addiction Medicine (CAM) at 303-436-5711.

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