Stanly Commission approves $1 million opioid grant budget

FILE - This Feb. 19, 2013, file photo shows OxyContin pills arranged for a photo at a pharmacy in Montpelier, Vt. Purdue Pharma, the company which makes OxyContin and other drugs, filed court papers in New York on Sunday, Sept. 15, 2019, seeking Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. (AP Photo/Toby Talbot, File)

ALBEMARLE — Stanly County was chosen as one of only three health departments across the country to receive a $1 million Rural Communities Opioid Response Program grant from the federal Health and Human Services Department. A more detailed budget of how to allocate these resources now that they’ve been awarded had to be, and was on Sept. 9, approved by the Stanly County Commission.

The federal program required proposals to be comprehensive, addressing areas of prevention, treatment and recovery. Jennifer Layton of the county health department presented to the commissioners how their budget was allocating money to each of these areas.

She said it was most important to her team to put around half the funding towards the medical services and supplies section of the budget, “because it’s what folks in our community need the most.”

“With medical services and supplies, one of the things I’m most excited about, we really pursued this grant hard because we can provide behavioral health services and behavioral health medications for uninsured men and women in this community,” said Layton during her presentation.

The medical services and supplies portion of the budget came in at around $440,000, accomplishing their goal of being around half of the $1 million grant. These medical items include Naloxone, a drug that can reverse otherwise-deadly opioid overdoses; behavioral health services; behavioral health prescriptions, like Suboxone, a drug that can aid in recovery; and drug testing kits.

Budget items that are not directly medical include: $83,850 for two vehicles; $1,500 for a laptop; $700 for a printer; $3,300 in airfare to required trainings in D.C.; two full-time positions, one at Gateway of Hope Addiction Recovery Center and the other at Will’s Place, at $168,750 each; and other smaller costs related to travel and staffing.

“The really interesting thing about this grant, and it’s hard to wrap everyone’s brains around, is we’re shifting the responsibility of this work from the county to the community, and that’s been our goal the last five years,” Layton said, adding that it’s more “sustainable” that way.

If they were to fund the positions through the county, she said, they would have to find ways to continuously budget for that through tax revenues. She said this grant wouldn’t require that, but would instead directly fund community groups that partner with the county health department. The county commission would then be responsible for overseeing these community contracts.

“We’d be able to hold them accountable for outcomes associated with this grant and their performance, but they’ll have contracts, and essentially we’ll be managing contracts,” county manager Andy Lucas said. “You’re not adding to the county department necessarily. We’re contracting with partner agencies and are simply the fiduciary agents.”

From fiscal year 2018 to September 2019, the Rural Communities Opioid Response Program has given out $157 million in grants to 1,117 communities in 47 states.

While Stanly’s was one of the only health departments to receive a grant of this kind, many other hospitals, nonprofits and universities did, including three in North Carolina: Appalachian Mountain Community Health Centers in Asheville, Coastlands Ministries in Moravian Falls, and FirstHealth of the Carolina in Pinehurst. Each received the same $1 million grant.

Stanly County experiences higher-than-average opioid abuse and overdose statistics, according to the North Carolina Health and Human Services Department’s Opioid Dashboard. This grant aims to address the issue, which has been identified by county officials as a priority.

After a motion from Commissioner Tommy Jordan for approval of the budget amendment to accept the funds for the grant, the commission voted 7-0 in favor.