A regional council charged with setting policy for distributing more than $28 million in opioid settlement funds will begin outlining a two-year plan detailing how the money will be used to combat and treat opioid use in El Paso and Teller counties.
Perhaps the most critical element of this effort, Colorado Springs resident Truett Scofield told the Region 16 Opioid Policy Council at its first meeting Thursday, focuses heavily on addressing stigma. .
“It’s not a moral failing,” said Scofield, whose 18-year-old son, Truett “TJ” Scofield Jr., died of a heroin overdose about 18 months ago. “It is not a socio-economic problem linked to poverty. It covers all aspects of our society, from the wealthiest and most privileged to the least and most disadvantaged and marginalized people in our communities.”
Public perception of the opioid crisis “will affect every other aspect” of local efforts to reduce it, he said.
The region’s two-year plan is tentatively scheduled for Sept. 15, but that date can be changed to give the council more time to design it, Colorado Opioid Response Director Heidi Williams said.
The Pikes Peak area is expected to receive more than $28.4 million over the next 18 years, part of nearly $400 million the state expects to receive in the same time frame. The funds are part of a $26 billion nationwide settlement involving Johnson & Johnson and three major drug distributors over allegations that their business practices helped fuel the opioid crisis.
Most of the money – 60% – was allocated to 19 regions in the state, with another 20% allocated to local governments based on a set formula. Ten percent will go directly to the state and an additional 10% will be distributed statewide for specific mitigation infrastructure projects in areas of Colorado particularly affected by the outbreak, Williams said.
The Region 16 Opioid Policy Council includes representatives from El Paso and Teller Counties as well as Colorado Springs, Manitou Springs, Fountain, Monument, Woodland Park, Cripple Creek, Victor, and the 4th District Attorney’s Office. judicial district. El Paso County is the fiscal agent responsible for receiving state funds and reporting the region’s annual expenses.
El Paso and Teller counties, as well as Colorado Springs, opted out of receiving their 20% direct shares. Instead, governments opted to add that money to the pool of regional funds, officials said. The effort promotes collaboration within the greater community and saves the county money, El Paso County Commissioners Longinos Gonzalez and Carrie Geitner, both representatives on the regional opioid council, said this week.
Any local government entitled to a 20% share of the funds can choose in the future to accept or not receive that money directly, El Paso County Deputy Administrator Kenny Hodges said this week.
In its first year, the Pikes Peak area expects to receive $3.95 million in settlement funds and $1.67 million in the second year, Hodges said Thursday. The funds are “pre-loaded”, he said, with larger amounts distributed at the beginning and decreasing over the last 10 years “to establish infrastructure and put programs in place first and then to fund them. over the years”.
The council can use the funds in various and broad ways, as long as they legitimately help alleviate the opioid crisis, Williams said. They include prevention and education, treatment, recovery, criminal justice, harm reduction and reduction of opioids and other illicit substances in rural settings, she said.
El Paso County Coroner and Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Leon Kelly highlighted the fentanyl crisis in his office’s 2021 annual death investigation report, released last month. More teenagers and adults are dying unintentionally from synthetic opioids, the report says.
Kelly previously told The Gazette that fentanyl use is a “glaring departure” from projected increases, as it slips into several illicit street pills and is often taken unknowingly. The number of fentanyl-related deaths in El Paso County has doubled in each of the past five years, he previously said.
Its annual report shows that local accidental drug-related deaths increased by 22% in 2021, largely because the number of fentanyl-related deaths – 99 – more than doubled from 37 fentanyl-related deaths in 2020 There were also 107 methamphetamine-related deaths in 2021, an 18% increase from 2020 totals, “occurring 25% of the time in association with fentanyl,” the report said.
Heroin caused 36 deaths in El Paso County in 2021 and 2020; the second highest number of opioid-related deaths in both years. Oxycodone caused the third highest number of opioid-related deaths in 2021, with 19. In 2020, oxycodone killed 10 people.
The state has asked each of its 19 area councils to coordinate with local and regional providers, use existing resources, and identify other sources of complementary funding — such as funds from the American Rescue Plan. Behavioral Health Act – to get the most out of settlement funds.
On Thursday, several council members generally expressed interest in prevention efforts, but first said they wanted to hear from nonprofits, hospitals, law enforcement, school districts and schools. other entities on their needs to inform the board’s next steps.
They also want to bring a diverse group of non-voting members to the board who can provide insight into the challenges and needs they face, such as treatment and recovery experts, harm reduction specialists, and members. of the community who have been personally affected by the crisis.
Council Vice Chairman Erik Stone, Teller County Commissioner, directed staff to solicit letters of interest from the community to become nonvoting council members. Scofield said he was interested in joining this group.
“I want to see fewer people die,” Scofield said in an interview after the reunion. “No matter what you think of how drugs get here, no matter what you think of people using them, I just want to see fewer people in my son’s position.”
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