NC to use legal settlement money from drug companies to combat opioid epidemic

Capitol Report

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – As the nation grapples with a surge in deaths due to drug overdoses, the state budget that was recently approved outlines how North Carolina will start spending millions of dollars coming here following legal settlements with drug companies.

Attorney General Josh Stein (D), whose office worked on the settlement, is encouraging more municipalities to take action to participate in the settlements to maximize the amount of money would come to the Tar Heel State to combat the opioid epidemic.

“If we get enough counties and cities to sign on to the opioid settlement that my office helped negotiate, North Carolina will benefit from nearly $900 million from various agreements with the drug companies,” he said.

The CDC reported last week that the nation saw an unprecedented 100,306 deaths to due drug overdoses from April 2020 to April 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold.

In North Carolina, the agency reported 3,526 deaths, an increase of nearly 37 percent compared to the previous year.

“They’re absolutely heartbreaking,” said Elizabeth Brewington, associate director of overdose response in the Partners in Health and Wholeness Program of the NC Council of Churches. “We’re in the middle of a poisoning crisis. Fentanyl and other substances are in our drug supply, and so that is also to account for the deaths we’ve seen this past year.”

The state budget, which passed last week, establishes a reserve to maintain the funds that come in from the settlements and outlines various ways in which the money can be used.

Among them: expand employment and transportation support; treatment programs for those who are incarcerated; medication-assisted treatment; housing services; and purchasing naloxone, which can help reverse the effects of an overdose.

The money is expected to become available in April 2022. The vast majority of it (85 percent) will go to counties and municipalities and be distributed over the course of 18 years, according to the attorney general’s office. The amount of money that comes to North Carolina will ultimately be determined by how many of those entities sign on.

Local governments have until Jan. 2, 2022, to agree to participate in the settlements. Click here to learn more.

Brewington wants them to use the money in three key areas: syringe exchange programs, making naloxone more widely available and medication-based treatments that are difficult for many who need them to access.

“We know what works. We know how to turn this tide around. We have evidence-based practices,” she said. “We want to listen to people who use drugs and people with lived experience. And, we want to make sure that we invest in evidence-based practices that work.”

She’s encouraging more municipalities to participate in the settlements, noting that could have a transformational effect in their communities.

“This could be life-changing money,” she said. “Since we have these programs already established, not having the money to back them is really upsetting.”

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