Pilot program proposed to help battle opioid epidemic

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WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — Opioid abuse is an epidemic that millions of people across the country are dealing with, and Wilmington is at the forefront.

That is why the Wilmington Police and health care providers are proposing a new program to battle the growing epidemic. Police Chief Ralph Evangelous proposed a pilot program to state lawmakers Monday morning.

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The proposal is designed to create rapid response teams to battle the city’s opioid epidemic.

“We’re naloxoning people. We’re reviving them. We’re saving their lives. That’s a good thing,” Wilmington Police Deputy Chief Mitch Cunninham said. “But what we painfully found out was, that’s not enough. You know you can bring people back to life. But if you’re bringing people back to life, and they exist in the same circumstances, there’s no real change.”

If approved, police, EMS, and mental health care professionals would work together to respond to opioid users days after an overdose.



“So we’re trying to build out a process that, once that person has been initially contacted by law enforcement or EMS, they’re getting into something meaningful. It’s going to make real change,” Cunningham said.

The program would use information from the 911 center to determine who has been recently hospitalized or treated, and then follow up with users to encourage them to seek treatment.

It is a proposal that North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition Executive Director Robert Childs fully supports.

“We meet a lot of people at North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition that have just fallen through the cracks. And if we can do something as a community to get to folks before, you know, they go through a long road of addiction and dependency, to me that’s a fantastic thing,” Childs said.

The proposal is modeled after a similar program in Ohio that has successfully gotten people off the streets and into treatment. It is a goal Wilmington Police say they hope they can reach.

City leaders say they should know by summer if the state will approve the $250,000 for the program.