When it comes to the current state of the opioid crisis in Jefferson County, there is both good news and bad, state and county leaders say. First, the bad. Jeffco Sheriff Jeff Shrader said the county …
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When it comes to the current state of the opioid crisis in Jefferson County, there is both good news and bad, state and county leaders say.
First, the bad.
Jeffco Sheriff Jeff Shrader said the county is seeing not only increased presence of fentanyl but an increased number of “naxolone saves” both in the jail and throughout the county, which he believes is indicative of increasing presence and use of fentanyl and other opioids in the community. Naxolone (which is sold under the brand name Narcan) is a drug used to counter the effect of an opioid overdose.
“It subsided for a period of time but in the course of the last six months to a year, we have a Narcan save in the jail every week,” said Shrader. “And those are drugs that are on board with somebody when they get booked into the jail.”
Now the good news.
Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser told Shrader, the Jeffco Commissioners and other county leaders on July 16 that Jefferson, Clear Creek and Gilpin counties are set to start receiving $1.3 million per year for the next 18 years in funds to address the opioid epidemic in those counties.
Those dollars, Weiser said, are coming from both litigation and negotiations that the state attorney general’s office, usually in collaboration with his counterparts in other states, has been engaging in with pharmaceutical companies that have contributed to the opioid epidemic.
In total, the state will be receiving $400 million from those companies, which include Johnson & Johnson, Purdue Pharmaceuticals and the corporate consulting firm McKinsey.
Although some of that money is being distributed to both the state and municipal governments, Weiser said the bulk of the settlement funds will go to regional bodies (Jefferson, Clear Creek and Gilpin counties constitute one of those regions). Weiser said municipalities will also be able to send their share of the funds to those regional bodies if they do not believe they can effectively use the funds themselves.
Weiser said receiving these dollars is presenting counties with a one-time opportunity “to really transform how you are dealing with the opioid epidemic” over the next 18 years.
“It could mean that five years from now instead of putting people in jail who are struggling with opioid addiction instead you have a sufficient treatment and recovery path,” he said. “It could mean that you have an effective educational awareness and prevention campaign so that people are less likely to start using and there’s also more openness to talking about this so they get help sooner if they do start.”
Weiser said one of the first steps for counties to begin spending the money is to determine who will be on the body that will oversee how the funds are spent.
That board will include representatives from each county government, health department and human services department as well as a representative from a city within the region with that city and representative rotating regularly. There will also be a representative from both one law enforcement agency and one court within the region. Finally, non-voting members will also offer expertise but not vote.
Brittany Pettersen, who represents portions of Lakewood and South Jeffco, in the Colorado State Senate said that receiving the funds is both frustrating and disappointing.
“I think the projection of what we need to actually deal with this is $1 billion a year just in Colorado alone,” she said. “So just to put it in perspective, this is still a very small percentage of what is needed out there.”
Pettersen said she was recently named chair of the state’s behavioral healthcare and will be looking to work with the regional bodies to make sure that the funds are being used transparently and effectively and that counties are also setting up programs that will be able to be sustainably funded after the settlement funds are spent.
During the meeting, Weiser said he is confident that Jeffco has the infrastructure and resources to effectively use the funds and that he had advocated for Jeffco to be included in a region with Clear Creek and Gilpin counties, rather than just be a region by itself, because those smaller counties might not have the resources to effectively deploy the funds on their own.
“A tentpole county like Jefferson County that works with smaller counties I think is a winning formula,” he said.
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