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Division of Substance Dependence

Our History


The Division of Substance Dependence was established in 1999, being built from the Addiction Research and Treatment Services (ARTS) of the Department of Psychiatry and from research programs associated with ARTS, together with additional input from the Department’s Addiction Fellowship and other faculty members working in substance dependence. ARTS continues to operate as the Division’s clinical service.

ARTS was established within the Department in 1971, although it was first called ARTS in about 1978. The original director was Dr. Donald Egan. The service initially consisted of a small methadone maintenance clinic within the old Colorado Psychiatric Hospital building on the 9th Avenue campus. It soon moved to a clinic in an area of the city with a high prevalence of opioid dependence. That original methadone clinic moved through several different buildings in the early years before finally settling at 1827 Gaylord Street in about 1977.

J.T. Brewster, LCSW, joined ARTS as Dr. Egan’s assistant in 1978. Shortly thereafter the service’s first residential treatment program was established in space rented at the Fort Logan Mental Health Center in southwest Denver. Ever since then ARTS has maintained residential programs, which have grown considerably in size, at Fort Logan.

Project Safe, a program within the Division of Substance Dependence, began in 1987 as a demonstration project funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Initially, Project Safe concentrated its activities primarily on developing and evaluating interventions intended to reduce the spread of HIV among drug users, including injection drug users (IDUs) and crack cocaine smokers.  Beginning in 1995, we modified our direction slightly by focusing on substance abuse treatment as HIV prevention.
​In 1979 T.J. Crowley, MD, assumed the position of Director of ARTS, a position he held until he became Director of the newly formed Division of Substance Dependence in 1999. Brewster was Associate Director of ARTS until 1999, when he became Director of ARTS within the Division of Substance Dependence. Crowley and Brewster maintained an unusually effective relationship. Brewster vigorously pursued state and local funds to build and expand clinical treatment programs, providing skilled supervision for the staff of those programs. Crowley provided overall supervision and consultation for ARTS, meanwhile developing a strong NIH-supported program of basic and clinical research in substance dependence. Together, Crowley and Brewster attracted other very productive faculty members.  In 2011 Dr. Paula Riggs became the Director of the Division and in 2015 Kristen Dixion became the Executive Director of ARTS.

Division faculty members are active teachers within the Department of Psychiatry. They teach medical students, residents, graduate students, post-doctoral fellows, staff from Colorado’s various treatment agencies, and members of the general public.
​The Division of Substance Dependence is now larger than many universities’ departments of psychiatry and larger than some current departments of the CU School of Medicine. On any given day the Division’s clinical service, ARTS, has more than 1,300 patients active in treatment. The program maintains 270 residential-care beds, and also operates a 72-bed program at the Denver Women's Correctional Facility in the Department of Corrections. Its clinical activities are supported by about $10 million per year in patient fees and treatment contracts with local, state, and federal agencies.
Division faculty have strongly supported the establishment, by the University of Colorado Hospital, of the Center for Dependency, Addiction, and Rehabilitation (CeDAR).

As a response to the development of managed care contracts for publicly-supported substance treatment, Brewster in 1997 spearheaded the formation of Signal Behavioral Health, an innovative non-profit corporation partially owned by the University of Colorado and consisting of a consortium of university and community substance-treatment programs. This association has given the Division a strong tie to Colorado’s extensive system of community substance-treatment programs.

The Division's research group has a strong national reputation and is highly productive in its scholarship. The Division of Substance Dependence has 11 faculty members above the rank of Instructor. Its combined NIH research support is approximately $4.7 million per year. Nine of the faculty are Principal Investigators on NIH research grants or contracts, and the others are co-investigators on those grants.