Widespread access to long-acting contraceptives is credited with declining teen birth rates in La Plata County and across Colorado.
"It's been almost a 10-year effort that produced these phenomenal results," said Liane Jollon, executive director of San Juan Basin Public Health.
In La Plata County, teen births fell from 18.7 births per 1,000 female teens in 2013 to 12.2 births per 1,000 female teens in 2016, according to recently released Kids Count data. Across Colorado, the teen birth rate has fallen from 22.3 births per 1,000 teens in 2013 to 17.8 births per 1,000 teens in 2016.
Preventing unintended pregnancy helps teens finish school and pursue college if they choose. Unexpected children are also more likely to experience poverty, difficulties in school and health problems, Jollon said.
"The way to have your healthiest family is to plan and space your children," she said.
The decline in teen births is part of a national trend that has been especially pronounced in Colorado because of the state health department's push to increase access to long-acting birth control methods, said Erin Miller, vice president of health initiatives for Colorado Children's Campaign.
The Colorado Family Planning Initiative received about $27 million between 2008 and 2015 in private funding to increase access to low- or no-cost, long-acting birth control methods, such as intrauterine devices and hormonal implants. The Colorado General Assembly continued funding in 2016 to serve between 40,000 to 50,000 women annually across the state.
From 2009 to 2015, it saved the state between $66 million to $69.6 million in aid that would have gone to low-income women and their infants, University of Colorado researchers found.
As part of the state's initial effort, Jollon said San Juan Basin Public Health received additional funding for staff, equipment and training.
The next step was to educate existing patients of the San Juan Basin Health's family planning clinic about the contraception options, which were previously prohibitively expensive for many. The health department staff members also educated students at Fort Lewis College, Southwest Colorado Community College and the school-based health center at Durango High School about birth-control options.
In 2014, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended long-acting contraceptives for teens who choose to be sexually active, and that has also helped encourage widespread cultural acceptance, Jollon said.
"It has been an incredible, impressive thing to participate in," she said.
As the use of long-acting contraceptives have increased in recent years, so have the rates of sexually transmitted diseases across the country.
The state health department is investigating a connection between the two, but the results are not ready to be released, said David Brendsel with the state's prevention services division.
So far, no studies have found a link between STDs and increased use of long-acting contraception, Jollon said.