Opioid crisis
Weld County puts settlement funds back into the community to save lives. Credit: Google free stock image

Weld County’s health department is among the beneficiaries of the latest national landmark settlement against prescription opioid manufacturers and distributors. The funds, county officials said, will go towards prevention programs in an effort to slow, and hopefully end, the high rate of deaths linked to the drugs.

About one person each week dies in the county because of causes linked to opioids and other overdoses. 

Weld County’s Department of Public Health and a regional opioid abatement county will receive $8.8 million. The department and council are working to address the ongoing epidemic, which has affected many lives locally.

Funds will go to organizations that can help local health officials in their efforts to prevent harm from the drugs.

“These funds represent a significant opportunity to combat the opioid epidemic at the local level, and we encourage all eligible organizations to apply,” said Eric Aakko, regional council director and chairman.

The regional council is set to decide how to spend the millions of dollars, which will be distributed throughout Weld County over the next 18 years. The funds are part of a $520-million overall settlement. It is not the first time such settlement money has gone toward local government. A similar settlement occurred in 2019. 

The regional council comprises 14 members, including elected officials, law enforcement officers, public health officials, human services workers, and others. The Colorado Attorney General’s Office and cities across the state, including each city in Weld County, were also part of the sweeping settlement. It leaves the regional council seeking proposals from local organizations with programs that emphasize recovery, treatments, prevention and education to save lives.

Specifically, the council is looking to address three primary areas: opioid use prevention, treatment, and education. The funding aims to address a crisis. In 2022 alone, 53 residents throughout Weld County died from opioid prescription and other overdoses, equivalent to about one death per week. Over the past 10 years, about 6,000 overdose deaths have been reported statewide.

“Anyone can apply to non-profit, community-based groups, healthcare, and schools, but they need to address one of the three buckets of prevention, education, or treatment as it relates to drug opioid use,” Aakko said. 

The deadline for applications (found here) is Oct. 11. The starting funding is about $30,000.

“The opioid award does increase the health department budget, but those funds are also turning around and going right back into the community,” Aakko said. “We have funded only one full-time position: a health educator, who is helping to coordinate the work of the opioid council, while also working with schools and community groups on drug use prevention.” 

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