Support the Behavioral Health Recovery Act

Colorado lawmakers are voting soon on SB 137, the Behavioral Health Recovery Act, which is a comprehensive approach to support individuals in need of services related to mental health and substance use disorders, especially due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is inclusive of behavioral health services for pregnant and parenting mothers, children and youth, individuals with physical and emotional disabilities, adults and senior adults.

The Behavioral Health Recovery Act will strengthen Colorado’s behavioral health system and prepare our state to provide timely, adequate, and high-quality care for individuals who need enhanced support as a result of COVID-19. It will provide relief for community organizations that have incurred unexpected costs associated with the pandemic and its dramatic impact on our economy – organizations that have worked tirelessly to carry out their mission to serve Colorado communities despite these unprecedented circumstances.

“More Americans could lose their lives to deaths of despair, deaths due to drug, alcohol, and suicide, if we do not do something immediately. Deaths of despair have been on the rise for the last decade, and in the context of COVID-19, deaths of despair should be seen as the epidemic within the pandemic.” 1


Use this form to email your state senator and urge them to support Senate Bill 137.

Dear [Your Senator] and Governor Polis,

My name is [Your Name] and I am a constituent from your district. I'm writing to urge you to support SB21-137, the Behavioral Health Recovery Act.


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[Your Name]

[City], [State] [Zip]

What are deaths of despair?

During this COVID-19 pandemic, it is crucial to consider the mental health and substance use disorder (SUD) needs of all Coloradans. Just as we needed to act proactively to ensure that our hospitals and healthcare system were not overwhelmed, so too are we seeing the need to proactively address the fact that in the coming months and years, behavioral health services will be needed at unprecedented levels. 2 This expected demand on the behavioral health system is what policymakers and public health researchers are calling “The Second Curve.”

An epidemic within a pandemic.

All overdose deaths totaled 1,223 in 2020, up nearly 20% from 1,062 the year before, according to state health department data that is preliminary and expected to rise even higher. 3

The Colorado Department of Revenue collected increased liquor excise tax revenues between February 2020 and May 2020 compared to the same time period in 2019. The greatest increase in revenues occurred in the month of May, which saw a nearly 50% increase from 2019 to 2020. 4

SUD involuntary commitments are up 70% according to data reported by the Office of Behavioral Health (OBH), demonstrating a sharp increase in serious substance use that has become a danger to the person.

According to the Colorado Health Institute, Coloradoans who are Black or African American had the highest rate of death from drug overdose in 2019 – the highest rate across all race and ethnic groups (25.5 deaths due to overdose per 100,000 people. The death rate due to drug overdoses among Coloradans who are American Indian or Alaskan Natives doubled between 2018 and 2019. 5 

What is contributing to the expected increase in deaths of despair?

Two primary reasons for the unprecedented need are the COVID-19 virus itself and the economic consequences associated with the emergency public health response. We already know that the Colorado Crisis Hotline has been handling an increased volume of calls and texts 6. Unfortunately, this is only the beginning. The Colorado Health Foundation found that 53% of respondents to a survey said the stress related to the coronavirus has negatively impacted their mental health. 7 A recent national study by the Well Being Trust predicted the pandemic could lead to 75,000 additional “deaths of despair” from substance misuse and suicide. As we work to support our communities, it is critical that those in need of behavioral health services have access to it. 8 For those already receiving services for anxiety, depression, psychosis, and other forms of mental illness or SUD, the need will be even greater as their conditions are exacerbated by the pandemic. 9

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