DENVER — Imagine a drug treatment facility with a sign out front that says “sponsored by Purdue Pharma.”
Seems strange, but that’s basically how Colorado is now using hundreds of millions of dollars won in court. The money to help people who are addicted to opioids comes from pharmaceutical companies sued for their role in the addiction epidemic.
The number is more than $720 million. A lot of money now flowing into Colorado over the next 18 years to tackle drug addiction.
"It’s a significant amount, but we could always use more for sure," said Bob McDonald, Director of the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment.
Denver will get about $38 million of the pot, yet if you ask McDonald, stopping people from overdosing in our city will cost a lot more.
"Is it helpful to have this money? Absolutely. We are going to be able to do some new things with it," said McDonald. "Is it enough? Well this amount of money over 18 years can go quickly."
The hundreds of millions of dollars will come from companies like Johnson and Johnson, CVS, Walgreens, Purdue Pharma and Walmart. We now know how the cash paid out in settlements from pharmaceutical companies will be used here at home.
"Harm reduction strategies, we know those work. Distribution of test strips, Narcan to reduce overdoses, education to reduce stigma reduction. Those things do work," said McDonald. "Does that mean those things alone will take care of the problem? No."
Colorado created 19 new regional collaboratives to allocate the money on a local basis. Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser (D) is in charge of how to make sure the more than $700 million doesn’t go to waste.
"Nineteen regions with their own regional councils. They make their own decisions," said Weiser.
Money will be split up over the next 18 years. A public dashboard will track how money is spent throughout the state.
"Money can provide more drug treatments," said Weiser. "Money can provide better recovery communities. Money can help train people to be service providers. Money can get the word out that this is a dangerous epidemic and people have to be careful."
While a fair amount of the money will go towards buying things like Narcan to help revive people after they’ve overdosed, the goal is to allocate most of the money to resources that help people not overdose in the first place. We will see a lot of the cash going to treatment centers and intervention. By using the money on the front end, they hope it saves money and lives later on.
"How do we help people stay in recovery? How do we prevent people from using these drugs in the first place? This all matters," said Weiser. "If we can do all of this work together and get more funds behind it because the money from the settlement is not going to be enough, we can make a real impact."
While several regions across the state have already allocated how they’re going to use their money, Denver has not spent any of it. They say they’re making sure it’s spent in the right ways. Wednesday, we learned they’ll be using the money to open a new treatment facility, launch a new anti-stigma campaign and even test wastewater for fentanyl.
"It could be easy to get discouraged, but we can’t let that happen," said McDonald. "There are people who need us and I think these funds are going to help us look for new things that we can do, new things that we can try."
Last year, 453 people died from drug overdoses in Denver. The number keeps rising.
Is this a problem $720 million can fix? We’ll see.
"I think it’s something that we’re going to be dealing with quite frankly for many, many more years to come," said McDonald.
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