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La Plata County commissioners tap Region 9 to help create opioid group

Council will guide how settlement money is used in Southwest Colorado
Region 17, which includes La Plata, Montezuma, Archuleta, San Juan and Dolores counties, will create a regional council in coming months to decide how opioid settlement money is spent. (Courtesy of Colorado Office of the Attorney General)

La Plata County commissioners on Tuesday approved a grant from the Colorado Department of Law, kickstarting the region’s opioid settlement distribution framework.

Almost all of the $18,000 Small Dollar Grant Award from the Department of Law’s Division of Community Engagement Opioid Response Unit will go to Region 9 Economic Development District of Southwest Colorado to help create a regional council for the state’s opioid settlement.

Region 9 will also help develop a two-year plan as required by the Colorado Opioids Settlement Memorandum of Understanding.

“Our role is to help facilitate meetings and organize (the regional council) so (local governments) don’t have to,” said Laura Lewis Marchino, executive director of Region 9.

La Plata County signed onto the statewide opioid settlement on Oct. 26, after Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser agreed to a $26 billion multistate deal with drugmaker Johnson & Johnson and distributors AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson in August.

Colorado expects to receive about $400 million from the settlement. Lawrence Pacheco, a spokesman for the Colorado Attorney General’s Office, said Tuesday’s ruling by the Oklahoma Supreme Court overturning a $465 million opioid judgment has no impact on the settlement funds.

If all local governments across the state sign the settlement, Region 17, which includes La Plata, Montezuma, Archuleta, San Juan and Dolores counties, would receive $4 million over 18 or 19 years, Marchino said.

All of the local governments in Region 17 are on track to agree to the settlement, she said.

Once the counties and municipalities in the region have signed, they will create a regional council and come up with bylaws and an intergovernmental agreement for selecting board members and managing the settlement money.

The governance board will consist of public health, human services, law enforcement, county court and other local officials. The regional council will also have non-voting members so community members with experience with the opioid crisis can participate, Marchino said.

The memorandum of understanding requires that a regional council be created by April.

Once the framework is laid, Region 9 will help the council develop an initial two-year plan for the funding.

Marchino said governments have already been discussing pooling the money to go toward a substance treatment facility or medically assisted treatment programs.

“They haven’t formally voted, but they want to pool all their money to fill the gap with something we don’t have at all,” Marchino said.

“San Juan, Dolores, all of the small communities, they want to put it in the regional pool for a bigger impact,” she said.

Region 9 is also working with local governments to begin a study to identify what opioid treatment and prevention projects are most needed and feasible.

The regional council will likely use that study, which has congressionally designated funding but has yet to be approved, as a guide for determining how the settlement money will be used, Marchino said.

For Marchino, the next steps in Colorado’s opioid settlement are some of the most exciting.

“I like that there’s this regional collaboration,” she said. “The communities really want to work together, and this money is helping them make a difference.”


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