Weld County officials plan to use opioid settlement funds to support treatment,

A Weld County coalition is weeks away from receiving the first round of opioid settlement funds meant to combat the opioid crisis through treatment, prevention and education.

Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser said Weld County is leading the state in developing collaborations and providing access to services — a trend he hopes to see implemented statewide.

In August 2021, Weiser’s office announced settlements with major drug manufacturers and distributors, including Johnson & Johnson. Initially, the developed framework planned to distribute about $400 million, but that number has since increased.

The framework is now in operation to distribute more than $520 million dollars to 19 regions during the next 18 years.

Throughout the past year, representatives from law enforcement, human services, the legal system, public health and elected offices formed the Weld County Regional Opioid Council to create a work plan and budget on how to distribute the settlement funds, according to Weld County Public Health spokesman Eric Aakko.

Members include Aakko, Greeley Mayor John Gates, Evans Police Chief Rick Brandt, Weld Assistant District Attorney Robb Miller and other officials from Weld, Windsor, Eaton, Firestone, Hudson, Fort Lupton and Nunn.

After numerous meetings, the state-level opioid council has approved Weld’s work plan. The budget is funding treatment efforts for people struggling with opioid use disorder, which includes adding medically-assisted treatment (MAT) in the Weld County Jail. Another portion of the money will fund training, education and awareness initiatives.

Weld County partners receiving the majority of settlement money are the Weld County Jail, North Range Behavioral Health, North Colorado Health Alliance and local law enforcement.

“It’s exciting how 15 diverse individuals who make up the council, how we were able to come together, work collectively and very efficiently come up with proposals, vote on them and come up with a plan to meet the state’s deadline,” Aakko said.

Aakko feels the council did everything “efficiently and effectively” to meet the required deadline for the work plan back in September. Now, the officials are waiting for those funds to come from the third-party fund administrator.

Within the next couple weeks, the council is set to receive a little more than $1.2 million for the first year — the first portion of the $8.8 million settlement it will acquire throughout the next 18 years.

“We’re anticipating funding for 18 years,” Aakko said. “We’re going to have higher amounts up front, and then it’s going to slowly start to go down over the years. But we’ve been told we should anticipate kind of this 1.2 million for around eight years or so.”

Top priority is treatment

In 2021, 68 Weld residents died from opioid overdoses. The rate of fatal opioid overdoses that year, 20.2 per 100,000 people, nearly doubled from 2020, when it was 10.73, according to state data.

Weiser highlighted bringing MAT to every jail statewide as one big change to fight the opioid crisis.

“I’ve heard different numbers for how many jails in Colorado have adopted it, but I know it’s not 100%,” Weiser said. “And we’re going to work hard to get that number to 100%.”

The majority of Weld County’s settlement money is for treatment, according to Aakko, who said $832,000 of the total funds are going to multiple treatment areas. A big bulk of the money is supporting bringing MAT into the Weld County Jail to help those incarcerated struggling with opioid addiction.

“We have made a lot of progress over the last year —  increasing the money, implementing the governance model, working to get the money out the door,” Weiser said. “The next critical step is starting to spend the money in the areas that we know need progress.”

MAT uses FDA-approved medications to treat opioid, alcohol and nicotine use disorders by correcting physiological abnormalities, according to a substance abuse expert from CO-SLAW, the Colorado Opioid Synergy for Larimer and Weld counties. CO-SLAW is a network of MAT clinics that offer MAT and counseling services to northern Colorado residents. MAT uses three medications:

  • Methadone, which helps with cravings and withdrawals,
  • Injectable Vivitrol, which helps with cravings, and
  • Buprenorphine, which helps with cravings and withdrawals.

The Weld County Jail is set to receive $415,000 from the first set of funds to pay a medical professional to oversee their MAT program, and whatever’s left will go to purchasing the medication, Weld County Sheriff’s Captain Matthew Turner said. But the settlement won’t completely cover the cost of those services, he said.

Turner can’t say for certain how much MAT will cost, considering the…

Read More: Weld County officials plan to use opioid settlement funds to support treatment,

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