Like many states around the country, North Carolina has been hit hard by the deadly opioid crisis. 

According to the NC Department of Justice, more than 13,169 NC residents died from unintentional opioid overdoses between 1999 and 2017. In 2017, more than 2,000 died of an opioid overdose — a 32 percent increase from the previous year. According to the CDC, the number of drug overdose deaths nationwide increased by nearly 30 percent from 2019 to 2020, and between 2019 to 2020, opioid-involved death rates increased by 38 percent and prescription opioid-involved death rates increased by 17 percent. Nearly 75 percent of the 91,799 drug overdose deaths in 2020 involved an opioid.

Now, Johnson & Johnson and distributors are paying out $26 billion to municipalities across the country to settle legal disputes that claim they helped fuel the opioid crisis. The payout resolves thousands of civil lawsuits that began in 2014 that have been filed against them by local and state governments and Native American tribes.

 “These companies made billions of dollars while millions of Americans got hooked on opioids,” NC Attorney General Josh Stein said in a 2022 statement. “In North Carolina, we’ve already lost at least 20,000 people to this crisis, and countless families…have been devastated by loss and addiction.” 

The settlement means that nearly $1.37 billion will be paid to NC local governments over an 18-year payment period between 2022 and 2038. During FY 23-24, they’ll receive $187.3 million.

Here’s how much Triad cities and counties are getting:

  • Guilford County will receive a total of $39,276,484 with a disbursement of $5,371,239 during FY 23-24.
  • Forsyth County is getting $35,708,863 total and receiving $4,883,351 during this fiscal year.
  • Greensboro gets an overall payout of $6,137,481 and will receive $839,329 this year.
  • Winston-Salem gets $5,754,240 total and will receive $786,919 this year.
  • High Point has been allocated $2,402,299 and will receive $328,525 this year.

According to a release put out by Guilford County officials, the money will be used to help those most affected by the crisis and to prevent further deaths.

On May 19, the Guilford County Department of Health and Human Services along with Guilford County Emergency Services, and Guilford County Solution to the Opioid Problem (GCSTOP) hosted the county’s first community stakeholder input session to gain insight from key community members on strategies for use of the county’s opioid settlement funds. Some of the strategies that came from the input sessions are as follows:

  • Treating opioid use disorder through evidence-based or evidence-informed programs
  • Supporting people in treatment and recovery with evidence-based strategies and programs
  • Connecting people who need help to the help they need (connections to care)
  • Addressing the needs of justice-involved individuals, including people who are already involved, at-risk of being involved, or are transitioning out of criminal justice settings
  • Addressing the needs of pregnant/parenting women and their families, including babies with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS)
  • Preventing over-prescribing and ensuring appropriate prescribing and dispensing of opioids
  • Preventing misuse of opioids
  • Preventing overdose deaths and other harms (harm reduction)
  • Training and education, including for first responders
  • Leadership, planning and coordination
  • Research (including, but not limited to, monitoring and evaluation of programs described in the MOA, service delivery, harm reduction efforts, & epidemiological research of OUD-related behaviors

According to the release, the next step for the county is to “finalize a needs assessment and strategic plan, create the Opioid Collaborative Task Force, and present recommendations to the Board of County Commissioners on recommended uses for the opioid settlement funds.”Reporting by WFDD noted that in Forsyth County, county commissioners “agreed to allot over a million dollars to programs aimed at addressing the opioid epidemic” including “recovery support groups and medication assisted treatment programs. It will also pay for supplies like harm reduction kits and the overdose antidote Naloxone.”

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