DENVER — While Colorado continues its fight against the opioid epidemic, there are certain areas more impacted than others that are now receiving some much-needed help from the state.
Fremont County, for example, ranks in the top 10 counties in Colorado with the highest opioid death rate per capita.
That's one reason the Colorado Opioid Abatement Council approved a $500,000 grant for Fremont County, the Boys and Girls Club of Fremont County, and various organizations trying to prevent drug abuse. The money is a portion of the$720 million Colorado will receivefrom the $26 billion settlement states won against opioid manufacturers and distributors.
"It is absolutely vital," Fremont Boys and Girls Club Director Graeme Lawson told Denver7 after learning the club will receive the grant. "The children don't have access to accurate or available information about the dangers that these drugs pose, and these kinds of funds allow us to establish education programs on how dangerous these drugs can be. They allow us to establish programs for kids that might already be involved in drugs like this and get them access to some mental health care and addiction treatments."
The club will also use that money to expand its building to include a childcare facility, classrooms, and a basketball court. It's "the whole nine yards dedicated to making sure that the youth of Fremont County know that they have a safe, modern place to spend their time," Lawson said.
The two branches of the Boys and Girls Club of Chaffee County will also be receiving $500,000.
Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser says providing these programs with additional resources is intentional and strategic.
"As we think about making these investments and the money we're bringing back — prevention and education programs have to be a central part of our strategy," Weiser said. "We know that young people who start using dangerous drugs and who develop addiction can struggle for years and years, even their whole lifetime. By helping young people build healthy habits by preventing people from turning to substances and developing addictions, we're going to improve people's lives."
The $26 billion opioid settlement is the second largest legal settlement behind the 1998 $246 million multistate tobacco settlement.
Research shows that only about three percent of the annual tobacco settlement was distributed to prevention and cessation programs.
"In Colorado, like other states, we've made sure that 100% of all this money, all $720 million will address the opioid crisis. Unlike the tobacco situation, money will not be diverted for other purposes," Weiser said. "We're going to make sure that every single dollar we spent is publicly disclosed so people can see how much money we're investing in this important awareness and education work."
The money is expected to be distributed throughout the span of the next 18 years.