Boulder County Regional Opioid Council to guide use of opioid settlement funds

·4 min read

Jul. 19—Boulder County is in the early stages of determining how to spend money it is being awarded from a number of opioid litigation settlements.

The county, otherwise known as Region 6, is set to receive about $13 million in opioid settlement funds over 18 years, with about $1.8 million — the largest allocation — coming in the first year.

Colorado's proceeds from the settlements include $300 million from Johnson & Johnson and three major drug distributors; at least $50 million from Purdue Pharma and the Sacklers; $25 million from Mallinckrodt; and $10 million from McKinsey & Company. Some of those funds will remain with the state, and some are being dispersed to regions such as Boulder County.

Municipalities in Boulder County have until the end of July to determine whether or not they'd like to pool resources as part of the Boulder County Regional Opioid Council, which will guide the strategic ways in which the county's portion of the money is spent through collaboration between the Boulder County government and local municipalities.

Thus far, it appears that most municipalities are interested in working together as part of the joint regional council, according to Jim Adams-Berger, strategic initiatives division manager for Boulder County Community Services.

Boulder City Council, for example, last week agreed that the city should sign on to an intergovernmental agreement that forms the council and directs its work moving forward.

For Boulder, it made sense to work alongside the county since the county has the staff and the infrastructure equipped to address substance use disorders, Deputy Director of Housing and Human Services Elizabeth Crowe said. The city does not have a public health department and instead works alongside Boulder County Public Health.

Further, the county and its municipalities are facing similar challenges.

"These issues really are regional," Crowe said. "It's not as if the city of Boulder's challenges are completely different from the county."

Because of the way in which the money is flowing in, with federal funds going to the state going to various regions, official decisions must be made by government officials.

Boulder County Administrator Jana Petersen will represent the county on the regional council, for example, while City Manager Nuria Rivera-Vandermyde will represent Boulder and City Manager Harold Dominguez will represent Longmont.

However, the intergovernmental agreement between the council members also acknowledges the importance of those with direct experience with substance use disorders.

For that reason, the agreement stipulates that the county will seat an opioid operations board that includes people with lived experience as well as behavioral health providers, health care providers, recovery and treatment experts. The board has largely been seated with members sourced from the county's previously established Substance Use Advisory Group.

The advisory board, which has been meeting since May, will make project recommendations for the funding.

The memorandum of understanding with the Colorado Attorney General's Office stipulates a number of ways in which the money can be spent, separated into categories such as treatment and prevention, each of which has a number of subcategories related to criminal justice, intervention and more.

Once all members of the council are official later this month, the group will then work to come up with recommendations organized within the two-year plan required by the state.

Given the tight timeline — the first iteration of the plan must be submitted this year — Boulder County is considering the funding in two separate stages.

The initial plan will outline projects that can begin immediately as well as existing programs worthy of further investment.

Moving forward, however, the regional council will consider more long-term projects.

"The second phase, when we have a little bit more breathing room, is to go into ... more of a deeper planning process so that we're actually building something more strategic," Adams-Berger said.

Once the two-year plan is submitted in the fall, there will be an amendment period the following spring, where the initial plan can be revised.

"The global goal is to really build out the infrastructure and the care continuum — everything from harm reduction to treatment and recovery — where we have already identified known gaps," Kelly Veit, strategic implementation manager for Boulder County Community Services, said.

Ahead of the amendment period, the regional council will spend the additional months analyzing data and collecting anecdotal evidence in order to determine the best path forward to address the gaps identified, Veit noted.

While Veit acknowledged she is not a subject matter expert, she said treatment and recovery is a known gap in Boulder County.

"We know that treatment resources are just not at the point where supply is meeting demand," she said.