BACKGROUND Many physical and psychosocial complications arise from the use of physical restraints. Restraints in nursing homes have been estimated to cause approximately 1 in every 1,000 nursing home deaths. When restraints are removed, quality of life and functional status improve; there does not appear to be an increase in serious falls, and serious injuries may even decline. METHODS To assess the current status in Colorado nursing homes, in 1997 the Colorado Foundation for Medical Care mailed a questionnaire to 214 nursing homes to identify remaining barriers to restraint reduction. Results were used to plan interventions to further reduce inappropriate use that met most providers' needs. Given providers' need for greater family and public awareness of the risks associated with restraints, the project team developed educational tools for distribution to families and a media campaign for the public. In addition, an assessment tool and educational materials were created to facilitate appropriate use of devices and implementation of least-restrictive interventions. Data were collected before and after the intervention phase on remaining barriers, frequency of assessment, and perceived level of success of restraint reduction. RESULTS Most of the 175 (82%) of Colorado's 214 long-term care providers who received educational materials found them very useful and recommended expansion to other states. Facilities indicated a higher perceived level of success in reducing restraints, an increase in the frequency of assessments, and a decrease in barriers to restraint reduction. The public awareness campaign, performed in tandem with the state health department, reached more than a half-million people in Colorado, using the slogan, "Restraints Have Risks!"