Orange County Commissioner Sally Greene recently received the North Carolina Outstanding County Commissioner Award for her work on developing a plan to distribute an estimated $750 million across the state from a recent opioid settlement.
The settlement came in response to lawsuits by a bipartisan group of state attorneys general — including North Carolina's Josh Stein — against Johnson & Johnson and three other drug distributors. The plaintiffs claimed the companies continued to distribute opioids even as overdoses and deaths attributable to the drugs rose sharply. In total, the lawsuit was settled for $26 billion.
Now, because of Greene and a team of other county commissioners across the state, a plan is in motion to distribute North Carolina's share of the settlement money to help families affected by the opioid crisis.
Local governments will receive up to 85% of the state's funds, according to the plan developed by the 555 Committee, which was made up of 15 officials from various counties — five commissioners, five county managers and five county attorneys.
The commissioners spent time working with the N.C. Department of Justice and Stein on the opioid settlement.
Orange County in particular has been struggling with drug use, Greene said. Now, Orange County could receive $7.9 million over 18 years.
The N.C. Association of County Commissioners gives this award each year to commissioners that have exhibited special achievements across the state or region, beyond just their county.
Other commissioners who received the award include: Jasmine Beach-Ferrara (Buncombe County), Johnnie Carswell (Burke County), Reece Pyrtle (Rockingham County) and Ronnie Smith (Martin County).
Originally from Gilmer, Texas, Greene has been an Orange County resident for three decades now. She attended George Washington University and received her Ph.D in English at UNC.
Greene joined the Board of Orange County Commissioners in 2018. Prior to her selection to the board, Greene served three terms on the Chapel Hill Town Council. She also helped create the Orange County Partnership to End Homelessness.
“The common thread for me from working on the Town Council to working on the Board of Commissioners is I have always been interested in those areas that have a direct impact on people’s lives,” Greene said. "I still care deeply about those issues which I can continue to fight for and work on with my involvement on the Board.”
Orange County Commissioner Renee Price congratulated Greene for winning the Outstanding Commissioners Award.
“North Carolina is projected to receive about $750 million from the $26 billion settlement with Johnson & Johnson and other companies that distributed opioids while addiction and overdose deaths increased,” Price said in an email. “All counties in the state will benefit from this settlement, and we thank Commissioner Greene for being involved.”
Former Orange County Commissioner Penny Rich, who worked alongside Greene for years, praised the team for its work to help those affected by the actions of these drug companies.
“We know in many rural parts of the state, opioid addiction is really bad, and they do not have the money to support those who were addicted,” Rich said. “Greene was able to work with commissioners from all over the state to help all areas that needed it and provide the funds to do so.”