Wilmington invests $100K in ARP funds to combat spike in overdoses during pandemic

Coastal Horizons Center operates a quick response team with a 90% success rate of connecting overdose survivors to treatment. (Port City Daily photo/Alexandria Sands Williams)

WILMINGTON –– During National Recovery Month, the City of Wilmington is granting $100,000 in American Rescue Plan Act (APRA) funds to an addiction treatment center for its continued fight against substance abuse. The rate of overdoses has risen drastically, both nationally and locally, throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.

Coastal Horizons is the recipient of the funds, which will benefit its city-sponsored Quick Response Team (QRT). Based on a model in Ohio, the program launched in 2018 as a pilot focused on opiates, after Wilmington topped a list of cities with the worst opioid abuse rates.

“Since that time, we have connected hundreds of people with treatment to save countless lives,” Mayor Bill Saffo said during a media event Thursday.


While the team has proven to be successful, the pandemic has set the entire U.S. back in its battling drug addictions. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the nation lost 93,000 lives due to overdoses in 2020. That’s 11 people an hour.

New Hanover County endured 32 deaths per 100,000 residents in 2020 due to unintentional opioid overdose, 45% higher than the statewide rate, according to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.

Signed into law in March, the ARPA distributes $130 billion to local governments for Covid-19 response and recovery. The City of Wilmington is receiving approximately $26 million from the ARP. The first $13 million, which arrived earlier this year, is actively funding grants for small businesses and nonprofits, and bonuses for city staff, among other expenditures. The second half will be deposited in 2022.

“Through the American Rescue Plan Act, we’re able to put more money where it’s needed and immediately help people that are in need,” Saffo said.

Coastal Horizons attributes its success to its peer support specialists who connect to overdose survivors at high risk of a second overdose. The specialists share similar experiences with substance use or mental health struggles and are able to build rapport with survivors.

“We have only learned in the last few years to really great levels how valuable peers are to the process for recovery, especially for people who don’t engage easily,” Coastal Horizons vice president of clinical services Kenny House said. “Peers who have lived experience can walk alongside someone. So it’s not like, ‘I’m a therapist,’ and I say, ‘I know how to help you.’ A peer support person is able to come alongside and said, ‘I’ve been down that road. Let’s walk together down that road until you’re safely in a better place.’”

In addition to specialists, the survivors are connected to licensed therapists, trained in intervention methods, who can prescribe needed medications and organize support systems, creating a balanced approach, House said.

The QRT reached a 90% success rate in connecting survivors to treatment in 2019-2020. Since its inception, the team has encountered 589 overdose survivors and engaged 513 of those in treatment.

On average, about 12 people are connected to treatment monthly. But in recent months, due to the uptick, the number has climbed to 18 or 20 people.

Coastal Horizons is attributing the growth in substance abuse to an increase in fentanyl, which can be present in all drugs. Treatment center leaders are saying the epidemic is no longer just about opioids. There is a spike in Benzodiazepines, a central nervous system depressant which, when mixed with other opioids or alcohol, is potentially fatal, House said. Abuse of methamphetamine and other stimulants, capable of accelerating the heart rate to life-threatening levels, is rising as well.

The ARP money will add to the $100,111 the city already allocated for the treatment center in its yearly budget, more than doubling its investment. House said the funds will help pay peer support specialists and therapists and, if needed, medications.

“We made sure that these funds go more directly to what helps people get better,” House said. “That’s how we’ve been using the quick response team money in the past, and that’s how we’ll use this additional investment from the city.”

The money will expand QRT services to abusers of other drugs, outside of opioids, and is expected to provide taxpayers a return on investment by saving money long term. Emergency department responses to overdoses in North Carolina were up 21% in 2020 from 2019.

“Connecting someone to treatment . . . costs our community significantly less than it does for that continued cycle: engaging emergency management services, engaging with legal services and various social costs,” said leader of the QRT Buffy Taylor.

Coastal Horizons also announced this week it is accepting patients at its new fully licensed Opioid Treatment Program in Shallotte. The office opened Aug. 25 to respond to the opioid crisis in Brunswick County. The daily medication program is a partnership with Trillium Health Resources and state and federal authorities.

Anyone who is struggling with addiction or knows someone in need of help should call the Quick Response Team at 910-833-2052.

“We’re able to help them access health and treatment, regardless of financial or regardless of distance barriers,” House said.


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