Attorney General Phil Weiser and local government leaders unveil joint framework for distributing opioid settlement dollars throughout Colorado to combat the opioid epidemic
Aug. 26, 2021 (DENVER)— After 18 months of discussions, Attorney General Phil Weiser and local government leaders today unveiled a first-of-its-kind joint framework for distributing statewide over $400 million that Colorado stands to receive from litigation settlements to address the opioid crisis.
The joint framework is structured according to a memorandum of understanding between the Colorado Department of Law and all counties, municipalities, towns, and county and city municipal corporations that agree to the framework even if they have not filed lawsuits against opioid manufacturers, drug distributors, or others for their role in creating and fueling the opioid epidemic. All participants in the framework must use the funds they receive for opioid abatement purposes such as drug treatment, recovery, prevention and education, and appropriate harm reduction programs, as well as addressing the epidemic’s impact on the criminal justice system.
Under the leadership of Attorney General Phil Weiser, the Department of Law has led critical opioid litigation matters, including a nationwide action against McKinsey & Company for their role in turbocharging the opioid epidemic, a better settlement with the Sackler family and Purdue Pharma, and a multibillion-dollar settlement with Johnson & Johnson and the nation’s three largest drug distribution companies that fueled the crisis.
“The opioid framework is a shared commitment across Colorado for investing the opioid settlement funds our state will receive to rebuild lives and communities. The ongoing opioid epidemic is 25 years in the making. The framework—and the collaborative problem-solving spirit we are calling for—promises a new way forward,” said Attorney General Weiser. “We have a once in a generation opportunity to build much-needed capacity to support drug treatment, recovery, and prevention and education programs. In so doing, we will honor those impacted by the epidemic and we’ll save the lives of countless others from overdose and addiction.”
“This work represents a united effort between local governments and the state to address the loss, suffering, and multi-generational impacts of the opioid crisis on our communities,” Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock said. “The epidemic of opioid addiction and its consequences touch every community, every demographic and every single one of us in some way.”
“This is about saving lives and it requires bold leadership. In close partnership with Attorney General Weiser, we have worked together across rural, urban, and suburban communities to maximize settlement funds to fight the opioid epidemic. Colorado is leading the way,” said Jefferson County Commissioner Lesley Dahlkemper.
The joint framework’s three core principles are to maximize settlement funds for Colorado communities, utilize existing infrastructure to the extent possible, and ensure regions hardest hit by the crisis get adequate funding. The state is organized into 19 regions under the framework with 60% of opioid settlement proceeds allocated to these regions. These regional collaboratives will have their own governing boards comprised of public officials from local governments in the region, will conduct their own needs assessments, and will develop community-specific plans for spending the funds they receive for opioid abatement programs.
Local governments receive 20% of the opioid settlement proceeds and may opt to allocate their funds to the county or region with which they are associated under the joint framework. Another 10% of the proceeds go to an infrastructure fund for capacity building in hard-hit regions that lack adequate facilities for treatment and recovery services. Finally, the attorney general’s office will manage 10% of the overall proceeds in a fund to address issues of statewide concern related to the crisis, such as addiction workforce development and prevention and education programs.
Logan County Commissioner Byron Pelton said this local focus is preferred because “local control is the best form of government to make sure funds are utilized where they are needed the most.”
Finally, the joint framework provides transparency and accountability to ensure opioid settlement funds are used as directed. A 13-member General Abatement Fund Council will provide oversight of the regional and infrastructure funds. Regions must provide annual financial reports to the Department of Law, and all state, regional, and local funds will be tracked and made available on a public website.
The state will receive maximum payments if a critical mass of local governments supports the joint framework settlement by January 2, 2022. Colorado stands to receive over $400 million from opioid settlements announced to date including $300 million from Johnson & Johnson and the drug distributors and $10 million from McKinsey & Company. The state will also receive $75 million from Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family and $25 million from Mallinckrodt when the companies exit bankruptcy.
The attorney general’s office worked with local government representatives, including city and county attorneys and leaders from the Colorado Municipal League and Colorado Counties, Inc., to develop the joint framework. Leaders from around the state are lining up in support of the joint framework and say it will bring needed relief to Coloradans who are struggling with opioid addiction.
Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers said: “As mayor of Colorado Springs, I’m pleased that the Colorado attorney general’s office was able to secure the necessary level of support for Colorado to join in this settlement. Opioid abuse has been a longstanding scourge in Colorado and I’m hopeful the flow of funds made available by this settlement will help combat the problem in our state.”
Prowers County Commissioner Wendy Buxton-Andrade: “From the very start, the focus from the counties and the attorney general’s office has stayed with the families and those suffering from opioid addiction and getting help to those families that need the assistance.”
Steve O’Dorisio, Adams County commissioner: “It was inspiring to see Attorney General Weiser, county commissioners, municipal leaders, and public servants come together to bring resources to our communities in our collective fight against the opioid epidemic.”
John Swartout, executive director of Colorado Counties, Inc.: “The partnership that has developed between counties and the attorney general’s office is invaluable. I am very pleased with the work that has been done the past 18 months to help reach this MOU that will benefit all counties and the work counties do to combat the impacts of opioid addiction.”
For more information on how Attorney General Weiser and the Department of Law are combating the opioid epidemic, including an Opioid Crisis Response Plan report, please visit www.coag.gov/opioids.