Colorado is one of 46 states participating in the National Opioids Lawsuit, brought by the State Attorneys General against opioid manufacturers and pharmacies for their role in the country’s opioid epidemic.
In Colorado, 19 regional opioid abatement councils are currently in the process of implementing administrative structures to disburse funds awarded to states and localities from opioid-related lawsuits as part of the National Opioids Settlement.
According to Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser’s office, the state has secured $740 million in monetary damages from the National Opioid Settlement. The settlement will be paid to state attorney general offices over 18 years.
The Region 5 Opioid Abatement Council includes Eagle, Garfield, Lake, Pitkin and Summit counties. Council members are county public health representatives, clinical professionals, county commissioners, law enforcement officers and individuals in recovery. This diverse group of stakeholders is charged with deciding how to reach a consensus on key priorities in addressing the opioid crisis.
Region 5’s first opioid settlement fund distribution of $500,000 will be dedicated to three opioid abatement focus areas chosen by the council: 1) an anti-stigma campaign, 2) harm reduction resources and 3) a data dashboard to track opioid statistics.
With an estimated $5 million designated to Region 5 over the 18-year settlement term, the initial disbursement of funds covers proposals written for two years. After two years, community needs will be reassessed to determine if priorities should shift to other areas, giving regional entities the ability to oversee how the dollars are most effectively spent.
Jarid Rollins, a co-chair for the Region 5 Opioid Abatement Council and director of Behavioral Health Services at MidValley Family Practice in Basalt, said the council is currently meeting monthly and the newly-formed initiative “has been kind of front-loaded because we’re still figuring out processes.”
The first task, Rollins said, was assessing needs. “Our communities are fairly different enough that it makes it difficult to find one specific program. Some areas have more needs than others. The council must be able to meet the needs of our entire region.”
Reducing stigma promotes recovery
On June 29, the Region 5 Opioid Abatement Council voted to fund Effct, a marketing firm that has worked on mental health and wellness educational campaigns in Western Colorado, to develop and implement an opioid anti-stigma campaign.
Rollins explained, “While stigma is going down around mental health in general, it’s still high when getting treatment for substance use, whether it is alcohol or opioids. Studies have found that stigma around addiction is one of the main reasons people don’t seek treatment.”
A unified anti-stigma campaign across the five Abatement Council counties is important because, as Rollins said, “We have so many people that live in Garfield County and work in Pitkin County, or are living in Garfield County and work in Vail. So having some golden thread, connecting it all together — whether that’s seeing public service announcements on the bus, or something similar — the public will get a consistent message. There’s more power in that.”
Promoting safety, reducing harm and saving lives
Carbondale-based High Rockies Harm Reduction (HRHR) was awarded a $100,000 grant for harm reduction campaigns. HRHR Founder and Executive Director Maggie Seldeen has seen the proliferation of opioid use in the Roaring Fork Valley. She said, “It’s everywhere. I think sometimes it’s worse here, in a smaller community, because we have limited resources, fewer things for young people to do, and isolation from services.”
Much of Seldeen’s work over the past few years has been connecting with the community — whether that is people using opioids or other drugs, law enforcement officers, school health officials, addiction counselors, support groups or attending events to hand out free Narcan kits and fentanyl test strips.
Seldeen said, “I’m excited because I’ve done a lot of lobbying this year, and there’s a lot of forward movement, but I also couldn’t believe that the work is ground-level and it’s about building relationships.”
Data to drive effective policies and resource allocation
One question Rollins asked was: How do we know how we’re doing? Currently, he said, accurate statistics cannot be gathered for naloxone use for opioid reversals. Many times, he said, when an opioid overdose occurs, the person is taken to an area hospital — whether that be via law enforcement or an ambulance district service — and opioid data is then collected.
However, Rollins explained that free smartphone apps, like OpiRescue and others, offer information on recognizing an opioid overdose and step-by-step instructions for administering naloxone, and they include a tool for reporting opioid overdoses and reversals. Those numbers are otherwise not captured in public health statistics.
Another important requirement for any data collection system is that it adheres to data privacy regulations in compliance with safeguarding personal information and following best practices for data security.
Garfield County Public Health Specialist Mason Hohstadt, a member of the Region 5 Opioid Abatement Council, is also a member of the data dashboard subcommittee, charged with reviewing RFPs for then making a recommendation to the Abatement Council.
Data dashboard RFP submissions are due by July 21, afterwhich the subcommittee will rank submissions and, Hohstadt said, “find an organization that we think can meet all of our needs.” That recommendation will be brought to the next Opioid Abatement Council meeting for a vote on July 27.
For more information on the Region 5 Opioid Council, go to https://www.eaglecounty.us/_T16_R63.php, hosted by fiscal agent Eagle County.