As money trickles in, rural areas hope to get much-needed help from opioid settlement

las animas
Posted at 2:07 PM, Jul 12, 2022

LAS ANIMAS, Colo. — The need for what Steven Martinez and his team do at RESADA, a substance disorder treatment center, is growing exponentially.

"In the last couple years, we've definitely seen a dramatic increase, especially in fentanyl use," he said.

RESADA is located in Las Animas, Colorado, a city of nearly 2,300 people, but for what it's experiencing, it could be anywhere in rural America.

"That's the hardest piece that RESADA fights all the time is the counselors. Being in a rural area, there's not a lot of people that leave high school thinking I'm gonna be an addiction counselor," he said.

The CDC says rural areas have been disproportionately hit by the opioid epidemic, made worse by the burgeoning use of fentanyl.

In a 2019 study, the CDC says the rate of opiate overdose deaths in rural areas surpassed those in urban areas – and that differences in socioeconomic factors, health behaviors and access to health services contribute to these.

The waitlist at RESADA has gone from one week last year to now three weeks. Martinez says the lack of counselors and services has led to collaborations with other services in surrounding counties which has helped, but it still involves clients traveling far distances, which is a barrier that metro areas don’t face.

"We have to try a little harder to get clients what they need," he said.

A glimmer of hope is the start of money coming in from the $26 billion opioid settlement. Each state government is in charge of divvying up the money to different efforts throughout their state.

John Galusha is a county commissioner in nearby Huerfano County, another rural area and the first county in the state to sign onto the lawsuit.

The money from the settlement is going to slowly trickle in over 18 years. While any money is welcomed, he fears the timed payout does not match the urgency of the situation.

Originally the county wanted to build a new health department to meet the need, but he doubts that will be able to happen. It's projected to cost $25 million.

"That's not really realistic because $30,000 a year, it's going take a long time," said Galusha.

What he is optimistic about is money coming in to help statewide messaging.

"If the state can develop the, the right messages, the right educational programs to get into all of the schools and and to really saturate the environment with a consistent message that helps everybody understand the problem better could be as big of a boon or bonus for us as anything else," he said.

While Martinez doesn’t know yet how the money will shake out and benefit his community, he knows that, with or without it, RESADA is still going to be there for the people who need it.

"It's about giving back what you have to other people, trying to be a part of the solution, if we don't do it, who's gonna do it?" he said.