Addiction to prescription painkillers has been a leading cause of the opioid epidemic in the United States over the last two decades. File photo

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Funds from North Carolina’s portion of the national opioid settlement have been added to Cumberland County’s budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

The Cumberland County Board of Commissioners on Monday night unanimously approved adding over $3.2 million for opioid abatement or remediation.

The settlement is part of a nationwide lawsuit worth over $26 billion. From that, North Carolina received over $757 million. Among the state’s allotment, Cumberland County will receive nearly $17 million, to be distributed in annual increments until 2038, Carolina Public Press previously reported.

Opioids are pain-reducing medications such as oxycodone, hydrocodone and morphine, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The epidemic started around 20 years ago, when increased opioid prescriptions from doctors led to widespread misuse despite reassurances from pharmaceutical companies in the years prior that patients would not become addicted to the medications, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The board’s vote is meant to establish the funds for expenditure.

Cumberland Health Director Jennifer Green told the Board of Commissioners last week at an agenda session concerning the settlement funds that specifics of the spending will be determined after feedback is gathered from the public.

The first meeting will be May 24 in the Pate Room at the Cumberland County Public Library. Another meeting will be June 7 at the Hope Mills Library. A third meeting will be June 14 at an undetermined location in Spring Lake. The final meeting will be June 22 in Eastover, also at an undetermined location.

All meetings will be at 5:30 p.m.

Green said she anticipates the public feedback will be brought to the board in August, as no scheduled commissioner meetings are scheduled in July.

Cumberland opioid overdoses increase

In Cumberland County, opioid overdose emergency room visits have increased in frequency compared with last year, according to data presented by Green to the Board of Commissioners.

So far this year, there have been 68 opioid overdose emergency room visits in the county. In the same time frame last year, there were 52.

According to the data, whites, American Indians and Alaskan Natives, as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau, are disproportionately impacted in the county by the epidemic.

Green said white people may be more impacted than other groups, especially earlier in the epidemic, because they had more means to access prescription drugs.

But that has begun to change as cheaper opioids, such as heroin, are starting to drive overdose deaths, she said.

“We’re starting to see an increase among other racial-ethnic groups that we haven’t seen before,” Green said. “That’s because people are not just getting addicted to drugs, like we saw in the early 2000s from prescription drugs. Now, it’s much more fentanyl and heroin, which are much cheaper drugs.”

Ben Sessoms

Ben Sessoms is a Carolina Public Press staff writer based in Fayetteville. Send an email to bsessoms@carolinapublicpress.org to contact him.

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