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Sunday, May 26, 2024

Sheriff’s office, Coastal Horizons to receive more than $1M in Pender County’s opioid settlement funds

Health and Human Services director Carolyn Moser recommended Pender County Sheriff Office, Coastal Horizons, and Pender County Schools as funding recipients for the opioid response program. (Courtesy Pender County)

PENDER COUNTY — After nearly a year of deliberations, Pender County officials decided on a first course of action in the county’s use of opioid settlement funds.

READ MORE: Pender County in planning stages to spend $6.8M in opioid settlement funds

ALSO: Tri-county anticipating an additional $30M in opioid funds

At the March 11 meeting, commissioners unanimously approved the distribution of $1.3 million over the next three years to three applicants involved in the county’s opioid response program. 

Health and Human Services Director Carolyn Moser presented the recommendation to fund Coastal Horizons, Pender County Sheriff’s Office, and Pender County Schools involvement in the county’s opioid response program. Moser said the program only received four applications which was “very disappointing”; PCD reached out to ask about the fourth applicant and will update upon response.

The three selected applicants are part of the Pender County Substance Abuse Prevention Team, which provided recommendations to the commissioners. The team also includes members from the health department, EMS, and Novant Pender Medical Center.

Moser said the committee had met several times to determine optimal strategies and carry out a gap analysis to ensure services in place were not duplicated. She noted conflicting schedules made it difficult to gather the diverse group of stakeholders, who recommended a strategy to commissioners in September. 

At the meeting, Vice Chair Jackie Newton urged action on finding contractors, stating she wanted to avoid “group thinking this thing to death” and wanted to “spend money to save lives.”

The county will receive a total of $6.8 million in opioid settlement funds until 2039, with $1.4 million coming by the end of this fiscal year; the county has so far received about $1,196,000. The resources are allocated from North Carolina’s $1.5 billion portion of national opioid settlement funds to be dispersed throughout an 18-year period. 

In 2021 and 2022, litigation resulted in two waves of national settlements totaling $56 billion with industries accused of fueling the opioid epidemic. The settlement includes some of the country’s biggest pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors, including Johnson & Johnson, AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health, McKesson, Walmart, CVS, and Walgreens.

The North Carolina Association of County Commissioners signed a memorandum of agreement, representing all of the state’s 100 counties, to coordinate distribution of the funds, which began in the second quarter of 2022. The agreement provides 15% of settlement funds to the state and the remaining 85% to counties and municipalities.

Moser said the sheriff’s office was the first applicant selected. The department requested $634,883 in funding over the next three years for hiring and training two new officers and new vehicles to provide DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) programs in county schools.

Coastal Horizons will receive $656,812 over three years to enable hiring new staff to reach high-risk individuals in the county, particularly those who have overdosed before. The facility will also create a post-overdose response team and maintain weekly contact and availability for treatment for residents struggling with addiction.

Coastal Horizons was unavailable to comment on details about the program by press.

Pender County Schools will also receive $37,200 over the next three years. The county education system is supposed to use the funds to partner with community agencies on early prevention efforts. 

The schools will coordinate with nonprofits Alice Aycock Poe Center, Communities in Schools of the Cape Fear and Coastal Horizons to provide early intervention education including available resources, signs, symptoms, and trends related to drug misuse, as well as detrimental effects on adolescent brain development. The program will begin in fall 2024.

Annual funding will be contingent on yearly project reports from each recipient to determine adequate progress for continued funding.

According to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, EMS believes 32 Pender County patients suffered opioid overdoses from July 2022 to June 2023, an increase from 17 suspected overdoses the previous year. Moser said males between the ages of 25 and 54 represented the largest risk group for opioid overdose; the 65-and-older demographic still represents the next-highest with around 15% of overdoses.

Moser explained local governments consider two approaches to opioid response. The first entails a focused high-impact strategy, whereas the second approach involves a collaborative strategy with a diverse array of stakeholders. 

The HHS director said areas such as Wake County — scheduled to receive more than $65 million in settlement funds over the next 18 years as North Carolina’s most populous county — are able to support a more comprehensive strategy.

The team settled on focusing on evidence-based treatment, early intervention, and recovery support. 

Moser said the committee believed early intervention should be the primary focus.

“We’re talking about trying to address our youth,” she said. “And do a lot of prevention before we’re faced with having to help people who are already addicted to any kind of substance.”

Pender County Board of Commissioners Vice Chair Jackie Newton asked Moser for a specific definition of evidence-based treatment. The HHS director said it involves therapies with scientific documentation to support effectiveness, such as Narcan, rather than novel remedies without sufficient evidence.

She said Pender’s emergency services, the sheriff’s office and schools have Narcan on hand, but argued its availability for residents is limited by high costs, around $40 per dose. Use of Narcan — an opioid antagonist medication designed to rapidly reverse overdoses — usually requires three or four doses in an emergency situation.

She noted the committee provided an opportunity for contractors to apply to expand Narcan access in the community, but none of the four applicants applied for that role.

Moser noted Coastal Horizons currently provides evidence-based addiction treatment services, but believes it needs expansion to other areas of the county besides Burgaw and Rocky Point. PCD reached out to Moser to ask which other county areas need urgent support but did not hear back by press.

The last pillar of the strategy — recovery support — would help people facing addiction or recently leaving incarceration for drug offenses with job training and finding housing. 

The committee will be required to submit an annual report to the county detailing expenditures and it will audit opioid settlement funds on a yearly basis.

The settlement funds will boost opioid response efforts in other counties in the Cape Fear region; New Hanover is scheduled to receive almost $39 million and Brunswick is expected to receive about $24.7 million over the next 18 years.

PCD reached out to the Pender Sheriff’s Department, DARE, and the District Attorney’s Office to ask more details about opioid response efforts in the county but did not receive a response by press.


Tips or comments? Email journalist Peter Castagno at peter@localdailymedia.com.

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