‘A historic opportunity’: Rowan Board of Health proposes plan for $15 million in opioid settlement funds

Published 12:07 am Sunday, July 17, 2022

SALISBURY — After months of reviewing community needs and identifying options, Rowan County public health officials have approved a proposal for how the county will use $15 million from a recent settlement with four major pharmaceutical companies.

The settlement was the result of a flurry of lawsuits filed against AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health, McKesson and Johnson & Johnson for their role in the opioid epidemic that swept through communities across the country.

On Tuesday, the Rowan County Board of Health voted on a plan put together by the department’s staff for how to best use the funding.

Shortly after the start of the special meeting, the board unanimously approved the plan, having previously reviewed it and how the funds would be allocated.

Alyssa Harris, the county’s public health director, said the next step will involve bringing the plan to the Rowan County Board of Commissioners, which will provide the “responsibility and accountability for managing the opioid settlement so that we can continue to lead the charge on addressing substance use in our community,” she said.

Harris and department officials stressed that this was a “historic opportunity” to use millions of dollars in settlement funds toward creating solutions for a community that recently identified substance abuse in a 2021 needs assessment as one of the three biggest issues to address.

The plan’s focus is on how to use the funds over the next 15-18 years, as the settlement involves staggered or installment payments. The long-term goals of the proposal will ultimately include creating changes, such as:

  • Turning the curve of overdose deaths in Rowan County
  • Reducing the number of substance use-related emergency department visits
  • Reducing the number of NARCAN reversals for overdoses
  • Reducing the number of incarcerations related to substance use
  • Addressing the rate of child welfare placements in the county due to substance use

Ultimately, the plan completed by the department proposes that by May 31, 2037, Rowan County will reduce the number of opioid overdoses significantly while increasing access to substance use treatment and mental health services, and reducing the recidivism rate of individuals involved in substance abuse.

The work plan consists of 13 strategic actions over the course of this timeframe to help reach the goal. Some of the short-term plans include:

  • Hiring by December of a substance use and mental health program manager, a harm reduction coordinator and an additional collaborative planning support system to “facilitate opioid settlement-related activities” and work in the public health department
  • Having “established syringe services and outreach programs” by the end of the current fiscal year, including a mobile unit to provide healthcare services related to substance use
  • Implementing early intervention campaigns that help spread awareness and educate the public about substance use
  • Conducting a youth risk behavior survey in Rowan-Salisbury Schools to be completed by the end of the 2024 school year.

These plans are part of a comprehensive response that Harris, Community Health Manager Courtney Meece and the health department staff designed to address opioid abuse issues.

Rowan has been above the state average in the rate of total medication and drug poisoning deaths. While the Healthy NC 2030 state initiative has set a goal of 18 drug overdose deaths per 100,000 people annually, Rowan was over twice that at 47 for 2020, according to provisional statistics.

The current proposal offered by the department is intended to address problematic statistics such as these and create a healthier Rowan County in the long-term, according to Harris. “I want to ensure we have meaningful outcomes at the end of the 15-18 years.”