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Cumberland commissioners approve spending for opioid treatment programs

Money from settlement of state lawsuit to pay for pilot projects


The Cumberland County Board of Commissioners on Monday accepted the county health director’s recommendation on how to spend the first installment of opioid lawsuit settlement money.

The unanimous vote came during a meeting that lasted well over three hours. Cumberland County’s share for spring and summer totals about $1.79 million.

Dr. Jennifer Green, director of the county Department of Public Health, recommended that the money be used for four initiatives:

  • As much as $800,000 to fund multiyear pilot projects that adhere to a list of state-approved strategies to combat opioid abuse.
  • Allocate between $10,000 to $70,000 buy Narcan, a prescription medication to treat opioid overdoses, and to fund a syringe service program.
  • Establish a $200,000 multiyear pilot project to support medication assisted treatment at the Cumberland County Detention Center.
  • Explore building or leasing space for a residential substance-use facility, a community recovery center and transitional housing.

In July 2021, N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein announced a $26 billion agreement with pharmaceutical companies to help communities affected by the opioid epidemic. An agreement  between the state and local governments directs how opioid settlement funds are distributed. Cumberland County is set to get $16,989,930 over the next 18 years, and the city of Fayetteville is set to get $1,994,964 during the same period.

The $800,000 will be used to fund state-recommended strategies that include early-intervention programs; addiction treatment for uninsured and underinsured addicts; programming to support opioid addicts in treatment and recovery; and criminal justice diversion programs.

Vital Strategies, a global public health organization that helps strengthen public health services,  is providing money and technical assistance to North Carolina counties for the next five years that choose these strategies to distribute Narcan and provide a syringe service program.

Vital Strategies will match spending ranging from $10,000 to $70,000 for counties that invest in these initiatives for as long as three years. In turn, Cumberland County would commit to continued funding of at least 75% of the initial investment using the opioid settlement funding.

The board opted to fund that recommendation at the full $70,000.

Implementing a $200,000 multiyear pilot project to support medication assisted treatment at the Detention Center was a third recommendation by Green. The treatment is not currently available at the jail. It uses three medications — methadone, buprenorphine and or naltrexone — that are approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat opioid addiction.

The program combines counseling and behavioral therapies. For example, according to Green, funding could support maintenance of the treatment for detainees taking prescribed medications for opioid use disorder before they were jailed.

The first three options would support just over $1 million in projects. The remaining $718,000 could be used for other programs such as exploring the feasibility to build or lease space for a residential substance abuse facility and transitional housing. Green said that coming out of a treatment program and returning to the same environment does not produce successful results in treating addiction.

The recommendations presented to the board by Green are based on feedback from a series of community meetings hosted by the Health Department in May and June, as well as a community survey.

American Rescue Plan

In other action, the board voted unanimously to accept the recommendations of the American Rescue Plan Committee’s funding list of 29 small businesses.

Tye Vaught, the county chief of staff, said the 29 businesses completed multiple steps of the Small Business Economic Assistance Program application process, making them eligible to receive coronavirus recovery funding totaling just over $1 million.

According to Vaught, the funding is contingent on the businesses’ successful execution of a contract with the county. He said county employees have visited each business and ensured that their paperwork with the N.C. Secretary of State’s Office is current.

The commissioners also were given a briefing by incoming Fort Bragg Garrison Commander Col. John Wilcox.

“It’s a great honor and privilege to be invited to speak to the Cumberland County Board of Commissioners and to be welcomed into this great community,” said Wilcox. “I look forward to developing a strong working relationship between Fort Bragg and Cumberland County and strengthening our friendship and camaraderie throughout the community.”

He said the people living on Fort Bragg are neighbors and friends of county residents whose children play together. He noted that during the Fort Bragg’s July 4th celebrations, more than 65,000 service members and their guests attended and not a single incident of criminal activity was reported.

He also said the plan to change the name of Fort Bragg to Fort Liberty resonates throughout the local military community and noted that the word “liberty” is in the lyrics of the 82nd Airborne Division song and in the Special Forces motto.

Jason Brady covers Cumberland County government for CityView TODAY. He can be reached at jbrady@cityviewnc.com.

Cumberland County, Fayetteville, opioids, health