Two measures on the November ballot could affect how Colorado delivers behavioral and mental health care to residents across the state.
Amendment 72 would increase the tax on a pack of cigarettes by $1.75 statewide to fund health programs, research and training. And Larimer County voters will be asked to approve a 0.25 percent sales tax increase to build a detox and substance-abuse treatment center in the area.
Laurie Stolen, alternative sentencing department director with the county, said such a center could put a stop to expensive emergency-room visits for many.
“After decades of trying to put Bandaids on our gaps in behavioral health care in Larimer County, we’ve finally come up with what we feel is the most viable solution to fill these gaps,” Stolen said.
For every dollar invested in treatment, taxpayers save four dollars in criminal justice and hospital costs. And emergency room visits decline by more than 45 percent when patients can access behavioral health care.
Moe Keller, vice president of public policy and strategic initiates at Mental Health Colorado, said raising cigarette taxes would help Colorado invest in educating young people. She said Colorado ranks 48th in the nation in per-capita funding for behavioral health services, and near the bottom for the number of available beds.
“Currently 35 percent of prison inmates, for example, have a diagnosable mental illness,” Keller said. “And the prison system in Colorado is the largest provider of residential mental health services in the state.”
Around 72 percent of people incarcerated in the state have a history of severe substance abuse, Keller said.
And when the only two options for addressing behavioral and mental health are hospitals and jails, Stolen said, taxpayers end up on the hook and problems are left unresolved.
“So many people have come forward and told their story of how they’ve been personally impacted by a family member – a brother, a mom, a dad – in some way,” Stolen said, “because of a substance abuse or a mental health issue.”
According to a 2015 report by the League of Women Voters of Colorado, one in four people nationally has a mental-health or substance-use disorder.
Public News Service