Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser joined local government leaders from across Colorado on Thursday to say how his office plans to distribute more than $400 million in settlement money from companies who contributed to the country’s opioid epidemic.
During a press conference at the Ralph L. Carr Colorado Judicial Center in Denver, Weiser said this money will be used to provide drug use treatment, and help “heal” communities across the state who’ve witnessed spikes in drug use and fatal drug overdoses.
The AG’s office has split the state into 19 regions to distribute the money. At least 60 percent of the money will be split up among these regions, and the state office will let each one figure out how to spend it. The money has to be spent on addressing opioid use, so it can be used for things like drug treatment, recovery efforts, drug use prevention, and harm reduction programs.
A 13-member General Abatement Fund Council will be responsible for oversight of the settlement money provided to each region. Each region will need to provide annual financial reports to the state Department of Law.
Weiser noted the money will help address disparities in treatment, but said it won’t address all needs for treatment across the state. Getting the money to the hardest-hit areas of the state, like the metro area and southern Colorado, is a top goal for the AGs office.
“Opioid addiction has hurt so many,” Weiser said. “I’ve had the constant pain of meeting parents who’ve lost young from overdose.”
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock on Thursday called owners and corporations responsible for the opioid epidemic “greedy” and said the money will help provide resources. The state capital accounted for nearly a quarter of all opioid-related deaths in the state last year.
“Families are devastated right now,” Hancock said. “Otherwise able-bodied, healthy individuals are walking our streets like zombies today because of this opioid crisis.”
A majority of the record 1,477 drug-related overdoses in Colorado last year involved opioids, according to state figures. More than 93,000 people died from drug overdoses nationwide last year.
The more than $400 million comes from settlements against companies including AmerisourceBergen, Johnson & Johnson, Purdue Pharma and Mallinckrodt. Weiser said additional settlement money may be coming from future settlements, though he didn’t specify the amount.