After three years and 4,000 lawsuits from government officials across the country, major pharmaceutical companies this year agreed to a $26 billion settlement—reparations for the opioid epidemic they caused. Now, Wake County commissioners are finally getting to use some of that money to help combat opioid addiction. 

Wake County received $36.1 million as part of the February settlement, which will be spent over the next 18 years on treatment, prevention, and recovery programs. On Tuesday, the Wake County Board of Commissioners approved the first phase of a spending plan. 

Over the next two years—from September of this year to June 2024—county staff will spend $4.85 million on four major initiatives to fight the opioid epidemic. Commissioners decided what the money should be spent on after hearing hours of testimony from experts on opioids and survivors of addiction.

The programs are as follows:

• $2 million for treatment of opioid addiction. The money will be spent on medication-assisted treatment for people who are uninsured and underinsured as well as resources for people going through treatment. 

• $1.5 million for “care navigation.” The money will be spent on hiring and equipping a team of people to help Wake County residents access addiction treatment, recovery support, harm reduction services, and healthcare as well as providing resources for the team to help people overcome barriers to care. 

• $600,000 on education and training programs to prevent opioid addiction. The programs will be aimed at youth, parents, community groups, coaches, youth ministers, employers, and others who encounter young people.

• $750,000 on housing for people recovering from addiction. Funding will go to supportive and recovery housing programs, which house people while also providing counseling, addiction treatment, and other services. Money will also go toward training for housing providers and housing assistance programs, which help people find places to live. 

Work on the initiatives will start this month. The money will help fund new programs and also sustain existing programs and nonprofits, according to a news release. 

“The opioid epidemic has affected so many people here in Wake County and across the country. It’s one of the worst public health emergencies our nation has faced in decades, and counties are on the front lines,” Sig Hutchinson, chair of the board of commissioners, said in a news release. 

“This is just the start – there’s a lot of work to be done. It’s going to take creative, determined efforts by many people to attack this problem head-on.” 

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