DENVER (KDVR) — In Colorado, fentanyl-related deaths continue to rise. According to Stop the Clock Colorado, an overdose death happens nearly every five hours and experts said more teens are struggling with substance use disorder. 

Fentanyl use disorders are spiking in the 14 to 23-year-old age group. Denver Health said they’ve served about 900 people under 21 with substance abuse-related issues in the last year alone. 

To meet this need, in May, Denver Health opened the state’s first licensed detox facility for adolescents. Now with this new facility, Denver Health can help them withdraw and recover in a safe environment.   

The building has always been an impatient adolescent mental health treatment facility. However, now this new unit will allow them to help with mental health diagnoses and substance use disorders.

Dr. Kristina Foreman is an adolescent psychiatrist at Denver Health, and she said mental health and substance use disorders can often be diagnosed at the same time. 

This facility puts patients on either the mental health pathway or the withdrawal management pathway with programs tailored to youth aged 12 to 17 years old.   

“So often, we see teens with substance use disorders that are kind of medicating by themselves, anxiety or depression. So being curious about that as well and asking about how can we help you with these other things going on in your life,” Foreman said.    

Its withdrawal management program works in conjunction with Denver Health’s Substance Abuse Treatment, Education and Prevention program. They incentivize them to stay sober and reward negative drug screenings, while also maintaining a routine with their education.  

Denver Health encourages guardians and families to be involved in their child’s treatment. However, Foreman acknowledges that those conversations can be hard.      

“All of these conversations are uncharted water. Being a parent is hard on a good day, and then being a parent who’s dealing with mental health issues or substance use disorders can be really challenging. I think the biggest tips I’d have for parents would be to help reduce the shame and guilt when they come about these conversations and come at it from a place of curiosity. Asking their teen about it, but decreasing that shame and guilt that they might pull out in the patient,” said Foreman.    

An interdisciplinary team provides multiple opportunities through phone/video calls, in-person meetings, family therapy, and safety planning.

Foreman said right now there’s one adolescent residential facility for ongoing long-term substance use treatment, and their hope is for the community to step up to help kids who have finished their withdrawal management and need a lower level of care and one that is not self-paced.  

Right now while the program is still new, they hope to treat up to four kids per week.