Prepared Remarks: Colorado Behavioral Healthcare Council Day at the State Capitol (Jan. 15, 2020)

Thank you for inviting me to say a few words today at the Colorado Behavioral Healthcare Council’s  Day at the State Capital. I also want to thank Doyle Forrestal for his leadership as CEO of CBHC and to all in this room for doing such important work.

In my remarks today, I would like to cover several topics: (1) creating more access to mental health care; (2) addressing teen mental health and suicide; (3) mental health issues among first responders; and the (4) opioid epidemic.

First off, I want to make clear, as everyone here appreciates, that mental health care is health care. The stigma around receiving mental health care is costly—in terms of lives, our quality of life, and our effectiveness at work and home, among other impacts. I am committed to talking about the importance of mental health care and working to destigmatize anxiety, depression, and substance abuse. I am equally committed to enforcing our state and nation’s requirement that mental health services be insured at parity with physical health care services. Chris Beall, who is our Deputy Attorney General for the Business & Licensing Section in the Colorado Department of Law, is with me here today and will be working on this important issue.

Second, in what is truly a crisis for our state, we must recognize that suicide is now the #1 cause of death for those between 12-24 years old. At Safe2Tell, which we operate in our office, we get more reports of threats of suicide than any other risk to students. To address this issue, we are working hard to get the word out that we need to open up more conversations and truly listen to young people who are struggling, including promoting a public service announcement to end the silence.

Third, in what is an under-appreciated fact, more law enforcement professionals die at their own hands than on the job. To address this issue, our office’s Peace Officer Standards and Training program will be emphasizing wellness as an area of training and conversation. For first responders more generally, we need to work on changing the culture from one that chills conversations on mental health to one that embraces them.

Finally, let me say a few words about the opioid epidemic gripping our state. (For those looking for more detail, you can read a recent blog post I authored on this topic here.) To lead our efforts in this area, we have looked for a team member to develop our office’s opioid strategy and engagement in this area. I am pleased to announce that we will be able to make an official announcement on this front soon.

With respect to our work in this area—notably including litigation against pharmaceutical companies that contributed to this crisis through deceptive and wrongful conduct—it is clear to me that it can only succeed as part of a team.

To that end, it is important that our office chairs the Substance Abuse Trend and Response Task Force, which takes a team-oriented and multi-disciplinary mindset towards this challenge. The crisis of opioid addiction impacts public health authorities, law enforcement agencies, schools, and our communities. To develop effective strategies, therefore, we need to recognize the range of ways this crisis is manifesting itself and evaluate a range of strategies to address it, keeping in mind that what works in Montrose may well be different than what works in Trinidad.

As we work to catalyze change and develop more services to support those in need, we will also be working to reduce the use of jail and prisons as de facto drug treatment facilities.

As we continue our work addressing the opioid epidemic and mental health issues, we are going to invite you all to work with us on a number of ways. Our office is committed to doing all we can to destigmatize addiction and mental illness and support people who are struggling. We have a number of tools in the Attorney General’s Office and are committed to using them as effectively and creatively as possible.


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