$18.4 million allocated to New Hanover County to address opioid epidemic

NEW HANOVER COUNTY (WWAY) — Millions of dollars are heading to the Cape Fear to fight the opioid crisis after a massive settlement with drug makers.

This litigation against three major drug corporations ended with a $26 billion settlement toward opioid addiction prevention, treatment, harm reduction, and support services.

After battling drug addiction while pregnant, Hayley Vandegrift says she’s lucky to be alive.

After Vandegrift gave birth, she was one of the first to enroll in Wilmington Tides, a program that rehabilitates opioid addicted pregnant women.

“I was homeless and didn’t really have anywhere to go to stay sober and just had had this baby,” she said. “I didn’t even expect to you know, be in long term recovery. Never thought it was even possible, and I owe all of it to them. I don’t know where I would be without it.”

Vandegrift is one of millions battling opioid addiction. That number skyrocketed in North Carolina at the start of the pandemic. In New Hanover County, 41.4 residents for every 100,000 died of drug overdoses in 2020, according to North Carolina Health and Human Services. That’s almost 72 percent higher than the statewide rate. Drug overdoses and suicides also increased.

Coastal Horizons’ Kenny House says it’s more important than ever to treat those in need on the spot.

“With additives like fentanyl in both things like heroin and as well as into other drugs sold on the street, people are dying,” said House. “So instead of them resurfacing for treatment, more often we’re hearing about them passing away.”

Coastal Horizons treated between 250 and 300 patients at a time before the pandemic. Now, they’re treating closer to 650 for opioid addiction.

With $18.4 million of the $750 million opioid settlement coming to New Hanover County, Attorney General Josh Stein believes these funds could help turn the tide.

“There will be people alive next year who have a chance for a long, healthy happy life, who otherwise wouldn’t have made it it because of the lack of funding for important services that because of this, are going to be provided,” said Stein.

Since graduating the Wilmington Tides program, Vandegrift has kicked her addiction, fallen in love, begun raising a family and and found work helping women through the very program that helped her. She counts her blessings every day.

“I’m just glad that I got offered that second chance at being a mother and you know, a second chance at life really,” she said.

New Hanover County does not yet have an outline for how they plan to spend this money, which will be disbursed over the next 18 years. Stein says they’ll begin receiving those funds in April.

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