Apr 15, 2022 - News

Denver's first payment from opioid settlement coming soon

A pill bottle that talks about an opioid lawsuit settlement on the label
Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

As Colorado gears up to receive the first installment of its $385 million in payments from the multistate opioid lawsuit settlement, Denver's making plans for its portion of the payouts.

Driving the news: Local officials recently formed the Denver Regional Opioid Council to create a strategic spending plan for the $39 million coming to the city over the next 18 years, public health director Bob McDonald told Axios Denver.

  • That money will be funneled into under-resourced programs aimed at reversing the crisis, such as stigma-reduction campaigns, medically-assisted treatment, on-the-ground outreach teams, and pharmaceuticals like Narcan that can reverse an overdose, McDonald said.

Context: Johnson & Johnson along with three other drug companies reached a $26 billion settlement in February for its alleged involvement in stoking the nation's opioid crisis.

  • The cash will flow to nearly every state and local government that has been hard-hit by addiction, including many rural communities.

By the numbers: At least 450 people died from overdoses in Denver last year, twice the number recorded two years earlier, 9News reports.

  • Across Colorado, overdose deaths in 2021 were a major driver behind the state's 25% spike in mortality. At least 1,757 people died from drugs last year — about 700 more than before the pandemic, per the Denver Post.

What they're saying: "We've seen a significant increase upwards of 20% of the number of people struggling with some form of substance misuse," McDonald said.

  • "Some of it stems from the pandemic, but some of it stems from things we're dealing with in life right now, from the cost of inflation to the crisis in Ukraine," he noted.

What's next: The Denver Regional Opioid Council is finalizing spending plans to submit to the state for approval.

  • Funds are expected to become available to cities across Colorado in summer or early fall, according to the Colorado Attorney General's Office.
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