Craven County to receive new weapons in battle against opioid abuse

"naloxone" by peabodyproductions is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Craven County received good news on two fronts this week regarding the county’s ongoing fight against the area’s opioid abuse epidemic.

In 2022, Craven County reported more than 300 opioid overdoses and ranked second highest in North Carolina for opioid overdose emergency department visit rates, reaching 219.9 per 100,000 residents, a number surpassing the state rate of 150.8.

During their March 20 meeting, Human Resources Director Amber Parker informed the board of commissioners that Trillium has awarded the Craven County Opioid Task Force a $50,000 grant that will go towards the purchase of low-cost naloxone, a medication that rapidly reverses the effects of an opioid overdose.

The naloxone will be distributed at no cost to municipal, non-profit, and private organizations within Craven County that serve those who are at risk of experiencing or witnessing an opioid overdose.

Craven County’s Opioid Task Force Coordinator will coordinate distribution and supply replenishment based upon need to all municipalities within Craven County, including New Bern, Havelock, River Bend, Trent Woods, Dover, Cove City, and Vanceboro.

The distribution will include all volunteer fire and rescue squads, municipal fire departments, municipal police departments and the Craven County Sheriff’s Office.

Naloxone will also be distributed to non-profit organizations, including Religious Community Services, The Gathering Place, the Coastal Women’s Shelter, Vanceboro Christian Help Center, Merci Clinic, and Promise Place.

Shopping centers and large employers will also be considered for naloxone distribution.

According to Parker, the Craven County Opioid Task Force coordinator will provide the training and materials necessary for the organizations to ensure they are using and storing the medication properly.

“What we’ll do is put out information to our partners to see what they need. The goal is to increase naloxone availability across the community to reduce opioid-related overdoses and deaths where they are likely to occur,” Parker stated.

Phase 2 opioid lawsuit funds also coming

The board of commissioners also learned that the county will be receiving an additional round of funding from a nationwide class action lawsuit settlement against opioid distributors and manufacturers.

Phase 1 of the settlement process involved three major pharmaceutical companies — Cardinal, McKesson, and AmerisourceBergen and resulted in North Carolina receiving $750 million to fight the opioid epidemic. Craven County is set to receive $8.5 million of that money over the next 18 years.

According to County Attorney Arey Grady, the county will also be the beneficiary of funds from a national phase 2 settlement involving pharmacies such as Walgreens, CVS, and Walmart.

Grady said preliminary talks suggest the litigation will result in a $10 billion nationwide settlement, with $750 million going to North Carolina to be distributed between counties and cities.

Grady said at this stage it is too early to put a precise number on how much of that money may come to Craven County. He said the numbers will be impacted by the payment schedule for the individual defendants, with CVS paying their portion of the settlement over 10 years while Walgreens will pay out over five.

Grady said the phase 2 settlement funds may not be the last round of payments the county receives from the national opioid settlements.

“There are defendants that have filed bankruptcy and as those cases are resolved there will be some more residual settlement flows, but I doubt anything of this magnitude,” he told commissioners.

County Manager Jack Veit said the county has been working on a plan for how Craven’s settlement funds will be distributed.

“I do think we’ll have a chance to bring forth phase 1 during the budget process and give some recommendations on ways to use the initial money and we’ll just keep adding to it as we move along,” he commented.