Dare County considers how to spend 422K from opioid settlement

By on July 2, 2022

County will receive $3.4 million over 18 years

Part of the opioid settlement money may go to a fentanyl public awareness campaign. (dea.gov)

During a June 30 meeting of the Saving Lives Task Force, Dare County Health and Human Services (DHHS) Director Sheila Davies presented proposals for how the county can spend about $422,000 it will receive this fiscal year as its share of the $26 billion opioid litigation settlement.

Overall, Dare County will receive a total of $3.4 million over the next 18 years from the settlement reached last year with four companies accused of helping fuel the nation’s opioid crisis. At the meeting, Davies reported that the county will get about $422,000 for FY 2023, and she outlined a plan to spend those funds in areas ranging from purchasing more naloxone to launching a “Fentanyl Kills” public awareness campaign.

The plan is expected to be voted on at the Dare County Board of Commissioners’ Aug. 1 meeting. According to the North Carolina Memorandum of Agreement (MOA), opioid settlement funding must be spent in one of three ways — for treatment, recovery support or harm reduction.

During a public discussion that followed the presentation, some speakers described the heavy toll taken by drug addiction and others lamented the lack of a local treatment center.

Davies told those at the June 30 meeting that some of that $422,000 has been committed to two county positions already approved by the commissioners – including $70,000 to sustain the existing overdose response coordinator job and $100,000 to fund the new position of a probation officer for the county’s recovery court program.

Noting that the “the rest is not committed; these are suggested,” Davies outlined the other proposed spending areas, including: $30,000 for the purchase of naloxone for community distribution; $15,000 for fentanyl testing strips for community distribution; $40,000 for a “Fentanyl Kills” mass public awareness campaign; $122,000 for community initiatives, including contract services and mini grants to other agencies; and $25,000 for “linkage to care/social determinants of health.”

Naloxone is the so-called rescue drug that can reverse the most severe impacts of an opioid overdose. The DHHS has been spending about $100,000 annually on naloxone, using other grant funding. This allocation will “keep it whole,” so the same funding level is maintained, Davies explained.

Fentanyl testing strips are used to test for the presence of the drug fentanyl in other substances. “It may be a moot point soon,” said Wally Overman, Saving Lives Task Force co-chair, about fentanyl. “It seems to be in everything coming in; almost one hundred percent” of other drugs.

“If it saves one life, we think it’s worth it,” Roxana Ballinger, the other Saving Lives Task Force co-chair, noted.

Davies explained that the county has seen “a number of fatalities” recently from individuals “having a recreational party” who overdosed and died not knowing their product was laced with fentanyl.

As to the public awareness campaign, Davies said she recently saw big billboards with the words, “Fentanyl Kills” prominently displayed in Phoenix, Arizona. She would like to bring that idea here, as well as put flyers at businesses and use social media. A working group would be set up to decide particulars for the awareness campaign.

The linkage to care/social determinants of health “is currently funded through a couple different grants,” Davies said, with about $100,000 being spent in the current fiscal year. The effort is designed to help people into treatment if they don’t have the funds and to provide counseling in the Dare County Detention Center. The next seven months are covered under “a Justice Grant,” and this allocation simply maintains the same level of funding, she explained.

The community initiatives portion of the funding supports ongoing work in the community by various agencies and entities. This funding would be distributed to the groups providing services — as long as they meet one of the criteria in the MOA — through a prioritization process, potentially using the Saving Lives Task Force for this prioritization, Davies said.

During the public discussion following Davies’ presentation, several attendees spoke passionately of the need for more local, long-range options for detox and treatment.

One man said his son has gone through “a bunch of 30-day programs. None worked.” Longer programs did work, he said, adding that mental health goes hand-in-hand with addiction and also “needs to be looked at.”

“I’m a little disheartened to see minimal funding going to treatment,” said Paris Murray, a licensed therapist and Saving Lives Task Force member. “That is a major gap.” After the meeting, Murray said that she works with children and adolescents in the county. Two of her clients are in recovery from opioids, but all have been affected, whether from having parents with drug problems or having friends die from overdoses.

Speaking at the event, Holly Henry-West said that her 30-year-old son struggled with heroin addiction for 10 years. “My son has lost 22 friends in four years [to opioids],” she added. “Can you say that about your high school and college friends?”

In response to those advocating for a new treatment center, Davies and Saving Lives Task Force officials said that between building, staffing and other operational costs, even the northeastern region pooling every cent of every county’s opioid funding wouldn’t be enough to cover the costs.

“It’s desperately needed,” Overman noted, to numerous murmurs of agreement. He and other Dare County leaders traveled to Plymouth and looked at the possibility of buying the former hospital there to use as a treatment facility, even bringing Trillium Health Resources into that conversation. Monetarily, it wouldn’t work, Overman said, adding that he only sees a new treatment center happening through state legislation.

Another speaker was Justin Parker, a licensed mental health provider and licensed substance abuse provider with Pathways to Life, which works with adults and children — some of whom live with parents suffering with substance abuse.

Parker discussed the idea of learning what works from successful programs elsewhere, even in other states. “I think everyone understands there’s not enough money,” he added. “We need to spend it as wise as we can. The only way to do that is get data on what’s working.”

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