Colorado attorney general talks addiction, mental health in Craig | CraigDailyPress.com

Colorado attorney general talks addiction, mental health in Craig

Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser talks at Colorado Northwest Community College's library Tuesday, Aug. 20.
Clay Thorp/Staff

Colorado’s top attorney might look to Craig and Moffat County Sheriff KC Hume for a model to address Colorado’s opioid crisis. 

Attorney General Phil Weiser visited the Colorado Northwest Community College in Craig Tuesday, Aug. 20 for a small town hall gathering inside CNCC’s library.

“I’m here because I represent Craig, Colorado and I want to work with you along with your sheriff and with the people of this community who want to thrive in the future…” Weiser said, adding solving Craig’s challenges can help the entire country. “It’s important for America because we cannot let communities like Craig suffer while other communities are doing great… We gotta find a way to have some shared prosperity so that all of Colorado can thrive.”

When no one in the small group of about 10 residents initially asked any questions, Colorado’s Attorney General started asking his own. Weiser wanted to know about Craig’s addiction problem.

“Are you seeing more opioids or meth these days?” Weiser asked Hume, who attended Tuesday.

“Opiods,” Hume answered quickly. “Meth is starting to make a little resurgence. We are seeing more of that. A lot of efforts that’ve been national and across Colorado have made some positive movement in dealing with this. I choose my words very carefully and it was several years ago I started calling this a crisis, because it is.”

Hume said Moffat County’s opioid crisis caused his office to rethink its jail intake procedures.

“It caused a situation where we changed and had to modify the intake process at my jail because a large number of those individuals coming in were either high on opioids or coming down,” Hume said. “And the coming down process on opioids is dramatically different and dramatically more significant from that of meth. So, we’ve made some changes.”

Those changes involved providing medication to inmates to help wean them off some street drugs.

“We’ve made some strides with our partners — rural regional health and some other folks — to introduce MAT: medication-assisted treatment,” Hume said.

This intrigued Weiser.

“That’s fabulous,” Weiser said. “While they’re in the jail?”

“Yup,” Hume said. “While they’re in the jail.”

Weiser wanted to know how Hume pays for such treatment, and Hume explained grant dollars from Northwest Colorado Health and others have been used to provide some of the treatment. Weiser said he wants to help the area continue to receive such grants.

“I’m happy to write you a letter of recommendation for those grants,” Weiser said.

Hume said he hopes the grants will reduce residents being incarcerated in the Moffat County jail multiple times.

“I’m very proud of that,” Hume said of the jail treatment program. “Here in Northwest Colorado where resources are extremely limited, where funding and revenue streams dry up, we’re able to make a positive impact and hopefully reduce recidivism.”

Weiser added he wants to see a little more of Hume’s “playbook” to aid others in the industry.

“I stole it. It wasn’t my idea. I stole it from others and put it together,” Hume joked.

But whether the county’s drug treatment program will reduce recidivism rates is yet to be seen.

“Have you been evaluating whether or not, due to the medically-assisted treatment or the mental health side, you’re lowering recidivism?” Weiser asked.

“I believe we have not from the medicated-assisted treatment side because it is so new for us, so we don’t have the historical data,” Hume answered.

The attorney general said he’ll be listening for Moffat County’s recidivism rates once the data is collected as part of the county’s treatment grant.

“I’m very curious to hear how your recidivism rates have changed due to some of the things you’re doing,” Weiser said. “…I need to get from you a little more of your playbook so I can help others to learn from you.”

The conversation Tuesday soon turned to other issues such as water, oil and gas, and criminal justice reform. Weiser said he is looking at reforming Colorado’s cash bail system.

“What I’d like us to do is move to a risk assessment system where if you don’t believe someone’s a risk to harm anybody or reoffend or flee, let them out without even asking to pay money,” Weiser said. “Because a lot of people can’t even pull together $500, which means someone will sit in jail when they haven’t been convicted of anything and they lose their jobs. That harms their families and you often get worse outcomes, so we’re going to keep improving criminal justice.”

Mental health dominated much of Tuesday’s conversation. Jennifer Holloway, who previously held a position at CNCC before her new job at the Craig Chamber of Commerce, asked Weiser to help the legislature consider funding security for schools as part of any possible extra funding for mental health.

“We just don’t have funding for that,” Holloway said of mental health-related security.

Holloway pointed out the area’s mental health crisis culminated in several recent suicides.

“I was at the college before this job. I was the director of student support,” Holloway said. “I had five students kill themselves in my seven years here, and most all of them were ones I knew about ahead of time.”

Hume pointed out the jail has a contract with Mind Springs, a major provider of mental health services out of Grand Junction.

“That’s another piece of our entire continuum and efforts to reduce recidivism because we want people to go to court,” Hume said. “We want people to have good health care. We want people to have quality mental health services. We want people to be employed. We want people to be contributing members of our community. We don’t want them sitting in jail. It benefits no one.”

Weiser said Colorado’s new red flag gun law is part of the legislature’s efforts to address mental health concerns. He estimated Moffat County might see one red flag confiscation every five to 10 years based on the area’s population compared to other states with similar laws like Indiana and California.  

“There are ways to do this so that law enforcement doesn’t end up in an escalated situation,” Weiser said. “We are still developing our guidance, but we are not the first state to do this.”

After the passage of legislation in Denver allowing local governments more authority to regulate oil and gas on their own, Weiser said the area’s energy interests shouldn’t be worried if Moffat County’s commissioners don’t want to further regulate oil and gas.

“The theory of the law is that if a local government says we will operate how we’ve always operated, there wouldn’t be a change,” Weiser said. “So, the theory is nothing in Moffat County needs to change. It’s still a work in progress, but that’s the theory behind the law.”

Weiser wants Craig and Moffat County to know he’s working to support residents and families who may suffer from a transition away from coal.

“We’ve gotta make sure we have a just transition and find ways to support workers and communities so that as certain natural resources and energy sources decline, we don’t allow those communities to be devastated,” Weiser said. “I do believe in a bright future for Moffat County. It may well be different from the past, but it can be thriving. It will take a bunch of different steps including supporting the college and bringing broadband to this community, but also an ability to work together and rise to this challenge.”