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Thursday March 30th

OC Board of County Commissioners approves new committee to combat opioid epidemic

DTH Photo Illustration. Orange County created an opioid advisory committee that aims to help combat opioid addiction, and prevent deaths due to overdoses.
Buy Photos DTH Photo Illustration. Orange County created an opioid advisory committee that aims to help combat opioid addiction, and prevent deaths due to overdoses.

The Orange County Board of County Commissioners approved the creation of a new committee last month in an effort to reduce rates of opioid addiction and overdose deaths in the county.

The Orange County Opioid Advisory Committee, which will be composed of 19 members, is set to include representatives from the Orange County Sheriff’s office, Carrboro and Chapel Hill police departments and a number of other government organizations, including social and emergency services. Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools and Orange County Schools also have representatives on the committee. 

Two spots will also be reserved for those with lived experience of the opioid epidemic, along with several spots for community members without professional backgrounds or experience with addiction. 

While the committee’s members have not yet been selected, the final membership decisions are set to be made in November, according to Orange County Community Relations Director Todd McGee. 

The funding for the committee is part of a $26 billion national settlement between opioid manufacturers and communities harmed by the epidemic.Orange County is expected to be granted nearly $6.8 million in funds over the next 18 years and the county’s initial payment of $261,245 has already been received.

According to a press release, the committee will discuss opioid-related health concerns and issues impacting Orange County residents, advise the BOCC on how to allocate funds to reduce opioid use in the community and remedy opioid impacts. 

The committee will also host an annual meeting to receive input on proposed uses of settlement funds.

In 2021 alone, there were 29 opioid overdose deaths recorded in the county, along with 110 visits to the Emergency Department, according to Quintana Stewart, health director for Orange County. 

“More than 90 percent of these deaths were accidental,” McGee said.

Kim Woodward, EMS division chief for Orange County, said the crisis has worsened in Orange County. She added she has seen around a 211 percent increase in opioid responses during her past few years on the task force. 

“There are tremendous impacts,” Woodward said. 

The opioid crisis has also impacted the area’s social service system, she said, with children being raised by parents struggling with addiction. 

Woodward said one of her main hopes for the opioid advisory committee is that it will offer greater access to care for those with drug dependencies. 

She added it’s vital that harm reduction initiatives work to see things from the perspective of those they serve and meeting people where they are in their addiction and recovery process.

She emphasized the committee should allocate their funds where they’re needed the most.

“When you are providing government service, even local government service, you want to make sure that you're hitting the mark,” Woodward said, “You're maximizing your efforts to benefit people and that's why we're here.”

Renée Price, chairperson of the Orange County Board of County Commissioners, said the committee will help save lives within the community. 

The funds distributed through the Opioid Advisory Committee will also go towards improving the lives of those impacted by opioid addiction, Price said. 

“In addition to actually saving the life from a fatal overdose, it’s also for those that perhaps may not have succumbed to an overdose, but we can help turn their lives around,” she added. 

The committee will also educate the public on the opioid crisis and destigmatize addiction care, thus reducing harm to those impacted by addiction.

“We’re dealing with prevention, with education and awareness, as well as preventing further opioid abuse disorders and overdoses,” Price said.

@DTHCityState | 

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