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Mecklenburg commissioners weigh how to spend millions in opioid settlement funds

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Mecklenburg County
Christopher Griggs, an Atrium Health emergency room physician, speaks to Mecklenburg County commissioners during their meeting on Nov. 15, 2022.

Mecklenburg County officials heard a range of suggestions about how to spend millions of dollars the county will receive as part of the National Opioid Settlement at a hearing Tuesday.

Mecklenburg is set to receive some $33 million over 18 years. It’s part of a $26 billion nationwide settlement with pharmaceutical companies over their role in a flood of addiction and overdoses.

Christopher Griggs, an emergency room physician with Atrium Health, was one of 10 people who spoke to commissioners during their meeting Tuesday. He emphasized the need for a rapid-response mobile unit that can help people if they overdose.

“In order to engage the most vulnerable and highest risk of immediate death in our county who have opiate use disorder, it’s really important for us to consider starting a post-overdose response team to provide critical services outside the walls of a hospital and clinic,” Griggs said.

Mary Ward said there’s a “huge gap” in local programs that help people with substance use disorders transition out of a hospital or treatment center and into community care organizations. Ward is the president of Charlotte-based McLeod Centers for Wellbeing, formerly known as the McLeod Addictive Disease Center.

“Many times individuals fall back into old ways and behavior because, unfortunately, it’s easier to buy and find drugs on the street than it is for you to get into treatment,” Ward said.

The county also plans to conduct an online survey about how to spend the funds. It’s not clear when commissioners will make a final decision.

According to statistics provided by the county, in 2020, more than nine people died each day in North Carolina as a result of a drug overdose. From 2000 to 2020, the county said, more than 28,000 North Carolinians died from a drug overdose.

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Claire Donnelly is WFAE's health reporter. She previously worked at NPR member station KGOU in Oklahoma and also interned at WBEZ in Chicago and WAMU in Washington, D.C. She holds a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University and attended college at the University of Virginia, where she majored in Comparative Literature and Spanish. Claire is originally from Richmond, Virginia. Reach her at cdonnelly@wfae.org or on Twitter @donnellyclairee.