New Hanover officials say they are optimistic about the future of opioid dependence prevention and treatment as North Carolina released new details on how it will allocate potential funding in the future.
Attorney General Josh Stein and the Association of North Carolina County Commissioners announced in late April that future settlements for drug company lawsuits would largely be directed at local state governments. The agreement says 80% of the $ 850 million estimated in bylaws and resolutions will be directed to counties to be used for drug addiction treatment in their communities, according to a press release.
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“We have definitely taken a step in the right direction to give people the treatment they need,” said New Hanover County Commissioners Chair Julia Olson-Boseman.
It comes as New Hanover County sees a surge in overdose deaths despite continued efforts to reduce opioid use in the community. Between 2019 and 2020, overdoses increased by 50%, and since 2017, more than 200 New Hanover residents have died from unintentional overdoses, according to a press release from Olson-Boseman.
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This has only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, said Kenny House, vice president of clinical services at Coastal Horizons, a local drug treatment center.
House said especially during times of foreclosure, depression and heightened anxiety, and with so many closings there were fewer options for “healthy outlets.”
“I think what we could say is that the pandemic has accelerated some aspects of the opioid epidemic,” he said.
New Hanover was the first county in the state to join a national lawsuit against drug manufacturers and distributors for their role in the opioid epidemic. Then-Chairman Woody White helped lead this effort after seeing how opioid addiction affected many of his clients in his law firm.
And while White has said it is frustrating to see a continued increase in overdoses in the New Hanover community, he hopes future funding will be a way to reduce opioid use before it even begins thanks to prevention and education measures.
“I hope that part of this money will be deployed upstream to fight education and drug use among adolescents,” he said. “I think that’s a huge message and what I’ve tried to make here recently with the existing commissioners and other policy makers are local, continue to do what we are doing on the addiction side, on the services side. addiction for adults, but we need to do more for the education of adolescents and young people.
In February, the county opened Healing Place, a nonprofit drug treatment center with 200 beds at no cost to the individual. This facility is expected to be completed in April 2022 and will open in May 2022. It will fill an existing gap in the treatment of those who are uninsured, according to the county’s website.
A settlement has yet to be found in the national lawsuits and future funding could span up to 18 years. But House said the millions of dollars that will flow back to the state and county will be used to fund Healing Place, as well as to provide more treatment, prevention and education initiatives.
“We hope that these funds will be used for the research base’s prevention and treatment efforts and to overcome barriers that people may have in accessing treatment due to financial insurance or other barriers that typically prevent people asking for help, ”House said.
Journalist Sydney Hoover can be reached at 910-343-2339 or s[email protected]