By Taylor Knopf
The final state budget includes a little more than $10 million in state funds to combat opioid addiction and overdoses across the state over the next two years. That’s half the amount pledged earlier this year.
Throughout the session, it’s been unclear how much the state would allocate to the cause. Lawmakers have made passionate speeches about victims of opioid overdoses, and yet the Senate and House versions of the budget contained very little funding to address the issue.
The STOP Act (Strengthen Opioid Misuse Prevention Act), a bill heavily backed by bipartisan state leadership, focuses on decreasing the number of narcotics in the state and adding substance abuse treatment services. The bill initially came with attached funding of $20 million for community treatment, but the money was removed from the bill, causing concern in the addiction community.
In April, House Appropriations Chair Rep. Nelson Dollar (R-Cary) pledged at least $20 million toward addiction recovery as part of the STOP Act.
Neither the Senate nor the House budgets included STOP Act funds.
When House leaders announced their budget during a press conference in May, Dollar said his chamber was still working on finding funding for the STOP Act. He said state officials had been discussing how to use a $31 million federal substance abuse treatment grant first, and then they would determine what state funds are needed where.
That grant will be spread over two years and 80 percent of the money will directly fund treatment and recovery services, starting immediately. Funds are already being made available to treatment centers through the state’s seven behavioral health management agencies.
The final budget allocates an additional $10 million in state funds for addiction treatment and recovery services over the next two years. It’s one-time funding, but recovery advocates say it’s a start.
“This bipartisan budget funds opioid treatment statewide,” Sen. Phil Berger said during a Thursday press conference, where he told Gov. Roy Cooper to stop complaining about the budget.
“I think this is progress,” said Mark Ezzell, executive director of Addiction Professionals of North Carolina. “I think that it’s important that the state has stepped up to provide direct treatment dollars.”
He said while it would be great to have recurring money, the $10 million will help create infrastructure to help address addiction long term.
Rep. Greg Murphy (R-Greenville), a surgeon and a STOP Act primary sponsor, said the money will be directed to the state Department of Health and Human Services to distribute to organizations that apply for it.
He said treatment centers looking to expand, such as Triangle Residential Options for Substance Abusers (TROSA) in Durham, could apply to DHHS for a grant.
Lawmakers also slated $200,000 over the next two fiscal years to supply law enforcement agencies and the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition with more naloxone, an overdose reversal drug.
Guilford County will receive $250,000 during fiscal year 2017-18 to start an opioid overdose rapid response team.
Additionally, lawmakers funded a opioid pilot project for New Hanover County. In at least one survey, Wilmington was found to have the highest rate of overdose in the country.