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New Hanover County commissioners approve strategic plan for mental health and substance use funding

New Hanover County

On Tuesday evening, New Hanover County commissioners adopted a strategic plan to deal with mental health and substance use disorder issues, using two major revenue sources.

Jennifer Rigby, the county’s chief strategy officer, framed the issue in terms of its human cost, including people taking their own lives in cases related to drug abuse or mental health issues.

“We have seen that we have experienced about 15 deaths by suicide from January through July. In terms of opioid-related deaths, we have experienced 36 deaths. And then in terms of overdoses, we have experienced 299 overdoses," Rigby told commissioners.

At the conceptual level, the plan focuses on providing wraparound services for people before, during, and after they seek help for a mental health or substance use issue. The plan will help improve education and outreach, access to service and treatment, and support for recovery.

The strategic plan directs two main funding sources — $50 million dollars from the sale of New Hanover Regional Medical Center, which was earmarked for mental health and behavioral issues — and $18.4 million dollars from the multi-billion-dollar opioid settlement, which will be paid out to the county over the next 18 years.

Related: AG Josh Stein talks NC Opioid Settlement funding and medically-assisted treatment

Commissioner Jonathan Barfield, Jr. spoke about the plan’s personal importance to him. Several years ago, Barfield's daughter was nearly killed by an overdose.

“You know, having witnessed this, myself, in my own family, really drove me to really want to be a part of this conversation, but also to be a part of the solution…and recognizing that this right here is a strategy and a roadmap to saving lives," Barfield said.

County staff and other stakeholders will continue to research and fine-tune details over the coming months. County commissioners will have to approve final spending details as part of future budgets or budget amendments.