The La Plata County commissioners dedicated $331,187 in American Rescue Plan Act money to an opioid risk-reduction program administered by San Juan Basin Public Health.
The program will involve partnerships with Manna, law enforcement, government agency partners, as well as other local organizations.
It intends to combat recent increased drug use and overdoses in Southwest Colorado. The risk-reduction program addresses findings of a recent needs assessment for people who use or inject drugs. This assessment found a need for overdose prevention supplies such as overdose reversal medications and fentanyl test strips. The program will also distribute clean needles to those who inject drugs.
“It is well-documented that drug use and overdose rates are on the rise nationally, and we have certainly seen a corresponding increase in overdose incidents in our community, which correlates with increased usage,” said Liane Jollon, executive director of SJBPH.
County commissioners conducted community meetings with residents and groups to decide how to best distribute about $10.9 million in American Rescue Plan Act money, and the risk-reduction program aligned with priorities established by county commissioners.
Jollon said prescription opioids are a concern for the community, but what is more alarming is the increase in black market counterfeit drugs circulating in La Plata County, much of which contains fentanyl. She said the increase elevates the need for harm-reduction efforts. However, SJBPH also recognizes there is strong prevalence of heroin and methamphetamine in La Plata County.
Jollon said drug use has increased over the last 25 years but was heavily amplified during the height of the pandemic. Stress, isolation and economic uncertainty along with a lack of resources are contributing factors.
“We know from conversations with community partners and individuals that drug use is on the rise and a harm-reduction program can help counter the effects of this trend,” she said.
A report released in May by the Colorado Attorney General’s Office said there have been more than 5,500 opioid overdose deaths in the state during the last 10 years.
The report also said the state has only a third of the drug treatment capacity needed.
“The overarching goal of the program is to provide education and referral to primary care, mental health care and recovery resources,” Jollon said.
With increased drug usage, SJBPH has also witnessed a rise in HIV cases in La Plata County. A news release said people who inject drugs have an increased risk of spreading communicable diseases.
This was discovered in a study conducted by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, which identified a high prevalence of HIV in La Plata County. There were four cases newly diagnosed in 2020, which was the last year data was reported.
“Many others are currently living with HIV in our area and those who are infected but who have not been diagnosed yet,” Jollon said.
The program’s goal is to reach as many community members as possible and focus on equity. Jollon said the program is an important step to save lives. La Plata County’s funding will extend over 18 months but SJBPH is seeking additional funding resources.
“SJBPH is extraordinarily grateful that La Plata County is committing American Rescue Plan funding to reduce public health risks in our communities,” Jollon said.