Tracking how Mecklenburg County’s $72M for the opioid epidemic is being spent

Tracking how Mecklenburg County’s $72M for the opioid epidemic is being spent

Photo: Alexandria Sands/Axios

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The opioid crisis in the Charlotte area is worsening. Amid the rise in fentanyl, Charlotte police responded to about 1,000 overdose calls in the first part of the year.

Yes, but: A massive influx of cash could help tackle the crisis. Mecklenburg County is expected to receive and deploy $72 million over 18 years through the National Opioid Settlements.

  • Most of the money is moving to local, established organizations experienced in battling addiction. In October, county commissioners authorized $6 million in grants.

Why it matters: Although overdose deaths decreased slightly in North Carolina from 2021 to 2022, the tragedies rose in Mecklenburg County.

  • 189 people died from illicit opioid overdose deaths in 2021. In 2022, there were 228 deaths, plus 1,444 emergency department visits for overdoses, county officials said during a community meeting on settlement funds Tuesday.
  • Even a small amount of fentanyl can be lethal. The synthetic opioid is sometimes mixed with counterfeit pills or drugs like marijuana and cocaine, leaving users unaware they’re taking it.

Catch up quick: Johnson & Johnson and three other drug companies in 2022 finalized a record $26 billion opioid settlement for allegations of stoking the opioid crisis. National settlements with opioid companies now total $50 billion.

  • 85% of the funds will funnel into local governments.

[Go deeper: CMS weighs putting lifesaving overdose-reversal medication in its schools]

opioid settlement mecklenburg

Mecklenburg County shared its progress Tuesday with healthcare and criminal justice professionals, those with lived experience and other stakeholders. Photo: Alexandria Sands/Axios

Zoom in: Fifteen people in treatment, recovery, and in active use are getting help right now through Queen City Harm Reduction, a Center for Prevention Services program. The rapid rehousing started as a pilot but will continue after receiving grants last month from Mecklenburg County, says associate director Lauren Kestner.

  • Twelve clients are in the process of entering the program. They’re getting assistance to obtain IDs and birth certificates, find landlords, and overcome Criminal Justice-related issues and other barriers that have prevented them from finding housing.
  • Six have found places to live and are finding or recently found employment.
  • One has progressed to a subsequent phase, meaning they’re working and housed but still regularly meeting with a case manager.

“When you lack shelter, you can depend and start to cope with substances,” says Kestner.

  • Ultimately the goal is that participants achieve independence.
  • “There’s still follow-ups, and there are still check-ins, but they’re in a more sustainable and empowered place of living,” Kestner adds.

Here are all the organizations that received recently approved grants from Mecklenburg County.

Early Intervention ($750,000)

  • Thompson Child and Family Focus: Will educate 275 families on the dangers of prescription opioids.
  • Children’s Home Society of North Carolina: Will provide substance use awareness training to 100 foster parents.
  • Project 658: Will teach early invention to nearly 360 individuals, families and practitioners.

Evidence-Based Addiction Treatment ($750,000)

  • Charlotte Health Community Clinic: Will nearly double capacity to serve under- and uninsured patients through their behavioral health and Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) program.
  • Amity Medical Group: Will pay for patients to receive MAT as well as transportation to the treatment site.

Employment-Related Services ($525,000)

  • Hope Haven: Will help launch a workforce development department teach residents professional skills, offer financial aid for items needed to find a job and provide scholarships for training in high-demand fields.
  • Charlotte Area Fund: Will provide 80 people with access to workforce development programs, coaches, housing and childcare assistance, and aid to obtain career certificates.
  • National Center on Institutions and Alternatives ($158,000): Will accept individuals with opioid use disorder into 17-week courses in three career tracks: automotive repair, commercial driving and HVAC.

Recovery Housing Support ($3 million)

  • Hope Homes Recovery Services: Will provide housing to an additional 40 individuals.
  • Queen City Harm Reduction: Will provide permanent supportive housing to 40 people per year and rental and utility assistance to an additional 135 program members.
  • Oxford House: Will support scholarships for 150 people re-entering the community with opioid use disorder.
  • McLeod Centers for Wellbeing: Will develop an emergency financial assistance fund for past due rent and utility disconnection, plus connect people to financial navigators.

Recovery Support Services ($1 million)

  • Hope Haven: Will hire peer support specialists.
  • SMART Recovery USA: Will expand mutual support groups that focus on self-management and recovery training.
  • Carolina Cares Partnership: Will provide peer navigation and mental health treatment to people from the Latino and LGBTQIA populations.
  • Amity Medical Group: Will fund two positions: a peer support specialist and a clinical addiction specialist.

Here’s what else the county has invested in so far:

Partnership with Alliance Health ($4 million)

  • Expand early intervention services through contracts with Anuvia and Center for Prevention Services ($1.5 million)
  • Ensure all MAT programs can accept uninsured and underinsured patients ($1.5 million)
  • Expand recovery support services throughout the community ($1 million)

Partnership with Queen City Harm Reduction ($210,000)

  • Expand its syringe program and connect clients to prevention, treatment and recovery support services.

Narcan distribution ($330,000)

  • Increasing access to naloxone with the help of municipalities, Medic, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department and community organizations.
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