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Community Impact Team

Changing minds, approach to addiction and recovery

Brian Ferrans and Lin Wilder with Community Impact Team Brain PodThe Health District’s Community Impact Team is working to change how people experiencing substance use disorders are viewed and supported in northern Colorado.

In 2018, through its work with the Mental Health and Substance Use Alliance of Larimer County, the CIT Team kicked off the Changing Minds campaign to increase awareness of drug and alcohol addiction and its substantial impact on our community.

The goals of the three-year campaign are to shed light on the public health crisis of addiction and the need to think differently about the disease, in order to more effectively treat individuals and their families experiencing it.

“Addiction is a disease that changes the brain,” says Brian Ferrans, manager of Behavioral Health Strategy and Implementation on the CIT Team. “Once addiction takes hold of a person their brain is rewired to function as if drugs and/or alcohol are life-or-death essential for survival. When substance use rises to the level of addiction, it stops being a choice; it becomes a chronic, life-threatening disease like cancer.”

The campaign’s message, including an addiction recovery story of a local woman, made a big impact on JoAnn Herkenhoff, an UCHealth community health educator. “It was absolutely eye-opening to me,” says Herkenhoff, after attending a presentation with a community health educators group. “The shocking piece to me and my peers is the brain component. It allows you to be more compassionate when you understand that a person’s brain is changed by drug use.”

CIT staff have not only been focused on changing the minds of the community about addiction, they have also worked directly with community partners including all staff at SummitStone Health Partners, and criminal justice staff to alter the way they view and support individuals with substance use disorders as a system. This work is funded by a grant from the Colorado Health Foundation and focuses on helping the organizations improve their knowledge about addiction and incorporate evidence-based strategies into their policies and practices.

Currently only 1 in 10 of the 26,000 Larimer County residents with a substance use disorder actually get the treatment and recovery support they need. CIT staff hopes to change this by changing minds about addiction.