Special to Iredell Free News

RALEIGH — The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services has been awarded a $35 million State Opioid Response (SOR) grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

These funds will be used to continue the state’s efforts to turn the tide on the opioid epidemic by providing treatment and supporting North Carolina’s Opioid Action Plan 2.0. Previously, NCDHHS has received a total of $58 million in SOR grants, which to date, has provided more than 14,000 individuals with treatment and recovery services.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has been particularly difficult for people who struggle with substance use disorders, and this funding will help us reduce overdoses in our state,” Gov. Roy Cooper said. “But we know that the best way to ensure people without coverage can get the treatment they need is expanding Medicaid to 600,000 North Carolinians.”

This most recent award is part of the SOR grant program totaling $1.5 billion (per year, over two years) in awards to states and tribes across the country to combat the opioid crisis. In North Carolina, the $35,149,381 awarded for the 2020 Federal Fiscal Year will provide treatment services to at least 3,300 additional individuals in the first year and go toward funding continuing care for those who have been receiving services under existing opioid response grants.

Funding will be allocated, mostly through the LME/MCOs, to provide:

♦ Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT), the gold standard in treatment for opioid use disorders, in addition to services for individuals with a stimulant use disorder ($24,750,000);

Support for the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians in efforts to address opioid use disorder in their community ($1,937,033);

Additional implementation funds for MAT in Department of Public Safety detention and re-entry facilities ($1,711,531); and

Prevention and recovery services ($4,894,631)

“This funding will provide life-saving treatment, recovery and prevention services for a portion of the estimated 114,000 North Carolinians that are uninsured and living with a substance use disorder – a number we know is growing in the midst of this pandemic,” said DHHS Secretary Dr. Mandy K. Cohen. “While this federal funding will save lives, it will not come anywhere close to meeting the need and leaves our best tool on the table – expanding Medicaid.”

These funds are especially vital as the COVID-19 pandemic has made it more difficult for some individuals to access treatment for substance use disorder, prompting a spike in opioid overdoses. There has been a 21 percent increase in emergency department visits relating to opioid overdoses from the prior year, even as overall emergency department visits have declined. The N.C. General Assembly recently allocated $400,000 of CARES Act funds to purchase naloxone, the opioid overdose reversal medication, which is currently being distributed to Opioid Treatments Programs (OTPs) across the state. Additionally, a portion of a recent $2 million emergency grant award from SAMHSA won by NCDHHS is supporting access to OTPs in areas of the state particularly hard hit economically by the COVID-19 pandemic.

North Carolina’s Opioid Action Plan was released in June 2017 with community partners to combat the opioid crisis. The plan was updated in 2019 with the release of the Opioid Action Plan 2.0, which aims to reduce opioid overdoses in North Carolina and is built on three pillars: prevention, reducing harm and connecting to care.

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