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CAPE FEAR MEMORIAL BRIDGE: Updates, resources, and context

Joint Opioid Committee lays out spending plans for Wilmington and New Hanover County at latest meeting

Last week, elected officials from Wilmington and New Hanover County met with staff to discuss Opioid settlement proceeds and shore up their plans to tackle the opioid crisis affecting the area.

Jennifer Rigby, chief strategy officer with New Hanover County, gave a presentation to members of two committees — one for elected officials and another for staff — about the potential plan. The ideas in the presentation would be funded exclusively by opioid settlement funds that have trickled down to local governments from the State of North Carolina. North Carolina’s Attorney General Josh Stein and other attorneys general fought against major drug companies to get the funds.

The goals all fall under three main categories: Education and outreach, access to services and treatment, and sustainable recovery and well-being.

The plan is to fund these goals over a five-year period, with the committees being able to make adjustments to funding depending on whether certain dollars can be better used given to another idea.

D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education), a program many may remember from the late 80s and early 90s, has created a new K-12 opioids abuse prevention program that existing SROs in New Hanover County Schools will be teaching to students from kindergarten until 12th grade. The training will be given to 65 SROs, and 4 WPD School Liaison Officers (SLO) for a total of 69 officers. The funding request is a one-time payment of $60,000.

Both committees were concerned about how health professionals in New Hanover County are prescribing opioids for pain management and want to make sure those professionals are fully educated on how to prescribe them safely, as well as what alternatives they lean on. To that end, $12,500 over a five-year period is going to Safe Prescribing Opioid Education which will be taught annually.

Advocates and doctors have both emphasized the importance of Medication-Assisted Therapy (MAT). The detention center will now receive MAT to give to individuals being held there. On intake, individuals will be asked to fill out a questionnaire administered by Wellpath — the private company that manages healthcare for detainees — that will be sent to Coastal Horizons to determine MAT eligibility. The budget identifies $910,000 over a period of five years.

EMS workers in New Hanover County are also delivering MAT. Often, EMS will respond to a call and administer Naloxone if necessary. Once the individual has recovered from overdosing, they will be offered the option of MAT immediately — which they can accept or decline. Within 24-72 hours, the Quick Response Team will follow up with said individual, and provide them with options for recovery programs, including The Harbor 2.0 (which offers medication-assisted detox), and county-owned The Healing Place (which does not, relying on peer-led abstinence-based recovery, instead).

Both the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Department and the Wilmington Police Department are asking for replacement units of Naloxone. The Sheriff’s Office is looking to expand their stock by 200 units per year, while the WPD is looking for replacements as current units reach expiration, where they become far less effective at reversing an overdose. The collective ask is $170,000 for both departments over a five-year period.

The Quick Response Team is an emergency strategy to follow up with individuals who have experienced an overdose within 24-72 hours to connect them with recovery services. This program is seeking $1,000,000 over a two to five-year period.

Wraparound services are a big part of the conversation when it comes to supporting those with Opioid Use Disorder (OUD). The program is trying to ensure employment-related services are available to help individuals with OUD find employment. The ask is $200,000 over a five-year period.

Those who are uninsured are receiving support from local government as well. A total ask of $625,000 over five years will go directly to making sure uninsured people can still receive treatment and the medication they need.

Recovery housing support for those in treatment and recovery refers to short-term housing which also provides wrap-around services. The total amount going to this is $1,250,000 over a period of five years. The committee was sure to clarify that this would not go to building a new facility for this, but rather, creating more capacity with existing organizations to offer this kind of housing.

People transitioning from opioid treatment receiving wrap-around services is another big ask, at $1,250,000 over a five-year period.

Camille hails from Long Island, NY and graduated from Boston University with a BS in Journalism and double minors in Classical Civilizations and Philosophy. Her story focus revolves her deep care for children, young adults and mental health. You can reach her at cmojica@whqr.org.