‘A small portion of justice’ for lives lost’: Summit County creates vision for incoming opioid settlement funds

Across Colorado, $18 million is being distributed from the first round of settlement money from national opioid lawsuits filed against pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors.
Toby Talbot, File/AP Photo

Last year, it was announced that a $26 billion settlement involving major drug distribution companies, including Johnson & Johnson, would bring over $300 million to Colorado. 

This settlement money was supposed to address the opioid addiction and overdose crisis, according to the Associated Press

A year later, Summit County commissioners, in partnership with community leaders like the Summit County Sheriff’s Office and the nonprofit Building Hope, are in the process of planning out how the funds will be spent.

“I’m glad that there’s justice for all the people that have suffered from opioid addictions and for the families that have lost family members,” said Jen McAtamney, executive director of Building Hope. “For me, it is, at least, a small portion of justice for the people whose lives have been lost around this terrible tragedy.”

Summit County Commissioner Tamara Pogue said the Region 5 Opioid Settlement Governance Committee, which Pogue is co-chair of, has been brainstorming effective ways to use those funds for the past six months. 

Region 5 — which includes Eagle, Pitkin, Garfield, Summit and Lake counties — will receive about $600,000 in the first year and about $250,000 in the second. Summit County will receive approximately $30,000 to distribute locally.

“This is obviously a game changer in terms of communities like Summit that are working so hard on prevention and harm reduction and treatment, and it provides a whole lot of opportunity,” Pogue said. 

The committee partnered with “technical consultants” that helped to create a two-year plan for the region focused on “harm reduction, data collection and consumer education,” Pogue said. 

Moving forward, the committee opened up the plan to entities who would be interested in those prevention areas. 

“Entities that are interested in doing some of the work that’s been identified in the two-year plan will be able to apply for grants, and then the regional steering committee will award as appropriate,” Pogue said. 

Summit County Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons, who is also a member of the committee, said planning has come down to minor details. 

FitzSimons said a dashboard, which is still in the planning process, will be part of the prevention approach. He added that the dashboard will include resources from each county in Region 5. Folks can navigate through the dashboard to find which addiction resource works best for them. 

Though each county has a similar goal for education and prevention, each county also has different needs, Pogue added.

“I think it’s a multi pronged approach,” she said. “And our hope is that we’ll have a broad impact across all of these communities.”

FitzSimons said the county’s differences have also revealed new and exciting ways to engage in opioid prevention. 

“Our heads are pretty wrapped around what we know we need for our community,” FitzSimons said. “But it’s really interesting, listening to the other communities and seeing how they see these resources being built around — trying to save people in their community. So it’s exciting work.”

At the end of the day, the committee’s goal is to prevent folks from becoming addicted to a substance and also to provide care for those who are, Pogue said. 

As for the regional funds, Pogue said the $30,000 will be pushed toward local prevention tactics, mostly in the form of seminars, public presentations and prevention education. Rather than a big marketing campaign, Pogue said, more grassroots presentations will be held at places like Summit Middle School. 

In fact, on Nov. 15, McAtamney said there will be a fentanyl education presentation at the middle school from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. for parents. 

“I’m really proud to live in a community that we can talk about harm reduction in a real way, and people don’t want to just close their ears to it,” McAtamney said. 

Pogue said funds for the regional and local opioid prevention, the $600,000 and $30,000 respectively, are imminent.

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