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La Plata County joins Colorado opioid settlement

Commissioners acknowledge money will help, but more is needed to combat drug use
La Plata County commissioners agreed to sign onto Colorado’s Opioid Settlement Memorandum on Tuesday after the city of Durango’s decision to participate last week. The decision sets in motion several steps that will lead to the allocation of about $4 million to combat opioid use in a five-county region in Southwest Colorado. (Durango Herald file)

La Plata County commissioners agreed to sign onto the state’s Opioids Settlement Memorandum of Understanding on Tuesday, paving the way for money to combat the opioid crisis in Southwest Colorado.

The move, which comes after the city of Durango’s approval of the settlement a week ago, was unanimous among the three commissioners.

“We’re very much at the beginning of this,” said Commissioner Marsha Porter-Norton. “We’ve got to pull together a plan for treatment to be effective with these dollars.”

In August, Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser signed onto the memorandum, which would see $400 million distributed across the state as a result of the state’s settlements with Johnson & Johnson and drug distributors AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson.

The attorney general asked local governments across Colorado to sign onto the agreement to ensure the state receives full settlement payments.

As a part of the agreement, La Plata County will join Archuleta, Dolores, Montezuma and San Juan counties in creating a regional council that will guide allocation of the settlement money. Colorado’s 19 “regions” will receive 60% of the settlement funding with the state receiving 10% and local governments 20%.

The five-county region expects to receive about $4 million spread out over almost two decades.

La Plata County joins the city of Durango, which agreed to participate in the settlements last week. The various settlements will be finalized in January, at which point the money will begin to be distributed.

Opioid deaths and hospital admissions have increased since 2000 with seven per 100,000 in La Plata County in 2020, according to San Juan Basin Public Health figures.

Among the La Plata County commissioners, there was optimism, but also an acknowledgment that the money is not nearly enough.

“It’s $4 million we didn't have before so that’s good,” Porter-Norton said. “But $4 million is a drop in the bucket if you look at the kinds of treatment programs that are needed.”

For Commissioner Matt Salka, who lost a friend to opioids, the opioid health crisis has hit close to home.

“This is affecting me this year, last year and the year before,” he said in a statement during the meeting.

Commissioner Clyde Church concluded his comments in support of the memorandum with a sentiment shared by the rest of the board.

“Let’s get the show on the road,” he said.


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