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Remember that old fable about the little red hen? She’s the one who found a grain of wheat and decided to plant it so she could harvest enough to bake into bread.

Every step of the way, through the planting, harvesting, threshing, grinding and baking, she asks the other farmyard residents if they want to help. “Not I,” said the cat, the rat and the pig.

In the end, having plucked her lovely brown loaves from the oven, she asks, “Who will eat the bread?” And yep, you guessed it, the three who had contributed nothing to the project had their paws and hooves out waiting to be rewarded with a share of the spoils.

So it is with El Paso County and its Board of County Commissioners who, having refused to join the lawsuit against Big Pharma for exacerbating the county’s opioid addiction problem, are giddily celebrating all the money they’ll get from the settlement. 

In an Oct. 26 news release, County Commissioner Longinos Gonzalez Jr. says, “I want to thank all commissioners and staff for their efforts that benefited the State and El Paso County in retaining additional funds with the settlement, which will go toward investing in our community’s health and healing from the opioid crisis.”

Gonzales was referring to the board’s work toward signing the county’s Memorandum of Understanding with the Colorado Attorney General’s office that will open the spigot of settlement money. In other words, the county is everso happy to share in the money other plaintiffs worked for.

More than 3,000 entities nationwide joined the lawsuit against opioid manufacturers and distributors for oversupplying addictive drugs and engaging in deceptive advertising and marketing — overstating the benefits of opioids and understating the addiction risks.

Lawsuits came from states, counties and municipalities, labor unions and union benefit funds, hospital groups and Native American tribes including the Cherokee, Chickasaw and Choctaw.

They were joined by Colorado plaintiffs Conejos, Las Animas, Chaffee, Otero, Alamosa, Huerfano, Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder, Fremont and Larimer counties, city and county of Denver, city and county of Broomfield, Aurora, Black Hawk, Commerce City, Northglenn, Westminster and more.

But not El Paso County.

Back in 2018, when then Attorney General Cynthia Coffman added Colorado’s weight to the effort, El Paso County opted out.

At the time, then county spokesperson Dave Rose told the Indy: “After receiving input from various County departments and elected offices it is clear that determining the direct impacts from prescription opioid abuse on county programs and services would be imprecise at best and speculative at worst.” 

This despite the fact that Dr. Leon Kelly, EPCO’s deputy coroner at the time, had already told the County Attorney’s Office that his office spent $219,810 in 2017 for autopsies conducted on 102 people whose deaths were related to opioids.

We suspect the real reason behind the foot-dragging was revealed in something else Rose said: The “desired change in behavior” in the drug industry “will be accomplished with or without El Paso County’s participation in this litigation.” In other words, let the chicken do the heavy lifting.

If all goes as planned, Colorado will receive more than $300 million, with a statewide system in place that ensures a fair distribution over 19 regions. El Paso County joins Teller County in Region 16, which is pretty ironic, chicken-wise, since Teller was part of the lawsuit that brings money to both.

In the fable, the little red hen ate all the bread herself, and it would have served El Paso County right if we were denied a share of the state’s opioid settlement money. It would have been far more honorable to accept this money if El Paso County had been willing to at least break a sweat to help achieve the outcome. 





Note: This column has been updated to correct the spelling of  County Commissioner Longinos Gonzalez Jr.'s name.