Dare HHS proposes $423K to fight opioid crisis

Dare HHS proposes $423K to fight opioid crisis

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As Roxana Ballinger notes, the opioid crisis is not selective about who it affects. “It doesn’t discriminate. It’s professionals. It’s everyone,” said Balinger, Dare County Health Education and Outreach Manager and co-chair of the Saving Lives Task Force.

That includes her son, who she lost in October of last year. “He was 33 and had struggled for many years with substances. He was clean, [then] relapsed,” she said. “So this is personal. How can it not be?”

It was fentanyl that took Ballinger’s son’s life, and it is fentanyl that has cost more than 60 lives in Dare County since 2014 when fentanyl deaths were first recorded in the county. The drug is an opioid that the FDA describes as “approximately 100 times more potent than morphine and 50 times more potent than heroin.”

And it is the fight against fentanyl that is a key focus of the opioid settlement money that Dare County will spend in the new fiscal year.

For years, opioids were marketed with little concern about the effects of their use. But in July 2021, a group of opioid distributors and Johnson & Johnson, a manufacturer of opioids, entered into a $26 billion nationwide agreement to settle claims against them. As part of the settlement, all 100 North Carolina counties as well as 17 municipalities will receive funds for the next 18 years.

At the Dare County Commissioner’s meeting on Monday, June 5, Ballinger presented a recommended $423,000 budget in the new fiscal year to address opioid and fentanyl addiction in the county. The funds for the proposal represent Dare County’s 2024 appropriation from the North Carolina portion of the nationwide settlement.

As Ballinger explained to the commissioners, Dare County will receive a little more than $3.4 million over the next 18 years from the settlement, funding that is based on a Memo of Understanding (MOA) between Attorney General Josh Stein’s office and the counties.

In a Voice interview, Ballinger noted that the funding is not evenly parceled out over the 18 years, stating that “Initially, some of the funds are being front loaded the first couple of years.”

The proposed FY 2023-2024 budget of $423,000 is somewhat higher than $402,000 budgeted for the current fiscal year. Of that proposed spending, $50,000 is earmarked for care at the Dare County Detention Center; $60,000 for community initiatives that will take the form of mini-grants; $63,000 for a peer support specialists; $100,000 for a Recovery Court coordinator; and the largest chunk, $150,000, for naloxone and fentanyl test kits for community distribution. Naloxone is a drug that rapidly reverses the effects of an opioid overdose.

Significantly, the allocation for naloxone and fentanyl kit distribution has increased dramatically—from $12,000 in the current fiscal year to $150,000 in the coming year.

“Fentanyl is what’s killing people. And that’s why fentanyl has a lot of attention,” Ballinger said.

The plan calls for a wider distribution of lifesaving kits that will be in restaurants and other places of business.

“Businesses and restaurants that want it, we’re trying to educate them. We’re going to get receptacles in places wherever they would like it placed in their business. In the receptacle is going to be a naloxone kit and fentanyl test kit. So people can get those things,” Ballinger said.

It’s part of the county’s “Fentanyl Kills” campaign. The campaign includes billboards and advertisements saying just that—”Fentanyl Kills.”

The campaign also incorporates information that could keep a fentanyl user alive, advice that includes suggestions such as do not use the drug when alone, and if a person is going to use, have naloxone available and a friend there who can administer it.

“When you have substance use disorder, it is hard,” Ballinger said. “They have that the need for the drug, but they’re no different than you and I. They don’t want to die.”

As the county works on its opioid settlement funding for the coming year, Ballinger pointed out to the Voice that there is some uncertainty about the funding.

“Some of these pharmaceutical companies are filing for bankruptcy,” Ballinger said. “At least one of them has, so that may affect the money. We don’t know until you get it because the whole thing has been kind of in flux. We get a general timeframe of when dollars are coming in, but you don’t know until the funds actually come in.”

There is also, she told the Dare County Commissioners, the possibility of additional settlement agreement funds. Although she did not specify where those funds would originate, in December of 2022, a number of nationwide pharmacies including CVS, Walgreen and Walmart agreed to an as yet undisclosed settlement.

And according to Attorney General Stein’s website, “These Wave Two Settlements have the potential to bring significantly greater resources across North Carolina to address the opioid epidemic.”

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