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Cities, counties prepare for the arrival of millions in opioid settlement money

Published: Nov. 11, 2021 at 3:26 PM EST
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Millions of dollars are about to start flowing into New Hanover County to help people fighting opioid addiction. It’s part of a $26 billion settlement with major pharmaceutical distributors who manufactured and marketed opioids, leading to widespread addiction across the United States.

Last year alone, opioid overdoses are estimated to have killed 93,000 people across the country. Southeastern North Carolina has been especially hard hit by the opioid crisis. Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo estimates four people died every month in this county from an overdose, and many of their families have shared stories with him about the horrors of this addiction.

“It’s having an impact on all of us. It’s having an impact obviously on our public safety personnel, our public health, our hospital, but also the families. The devastation, the loss of life. It’s been dramatic and, like I said, literally every week I come across someone who has lost a loved one,” Saffo said.

The $27 million in settlement money slated for Wilmington and New Hanover County will be used primarily to increase access to treatment, particularly for people who don’t have insurance. It also will be used to expand treatment facilities.

Saffo says between public and private resources, we currently have a few hundred beds here to help people battling opioid addiction. To effectively tackle the problem, he says we need 600 to 800 beds. People suffering from addiction in surrounding counties also come to Wilmington seeking treatment.

Unlike the tobacco settlement money, which was given to the state legislature to dole out, the opioid settlement money is going straight to cities and counties. The hope is that will keep the politics out of it, helping the money get to the people who need it more quickly, and preventing the funds from being diverted to other projects.

The settlement money is expected to start coming in shortly after the first of the year.

“Is it going to cure it 100%? Doubtful. But I do think that we can put a dent in it. I think we can slow it down. I think that for those who want recovery or need recovery, I think that we will be able to make some inroads there,” Saffo told WECT.

As North Carolina prepares for the influx of money, North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein announced the launch of a new dashboard this week to help counties and cities across the state figure out how to best put their portion of the settlement money to use.

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