Mecklenburg County using millions in settlement money to fight opioid crisis

Millions of dollars to fight the opioid crisis are being put to work in Mecklenburg County, and the community gave feedback Tuesday on how that money is being spent.

Just about $6 million has already been given out to 15 organizations in the area, including places like Hope Haven. They tell Channel 9′s Evan Donovan that the crisis doesn’t discriminate; people of all ages are battling addiction, and this money will help them fight back.

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“At my high school, I’ve been offered more drugs than opportunity,” said Vanessa Hunter, a student at Julius Chambers High School.

Hunter read a powerful poem about seeing the opioid crisis firsthand.

“We didn’t know this was a crisis, all we saw was what was happening in our school, and so we felt like there should be more assemblies or more talks, or just in general us learning about what this is about,” Hunter said.

Dozens of people gathered Tuesday at the Valerie Woodard Center on Freedom Drive to do just that, learning what Mecklenburg County officials are doing with some of the $73 million they will receive over 18 years as part of the national opioid settlements.

Channel 9′s Madison Carter previously asked the man who helps distribute that money where the first $6 million is going.

“With that initial funding, we want to expand housing access, we want to expand evidence-based addiction treatment, we want to expand supportive services for people in recovery, employment services, and early intervention,” said Robert Nesbit, the chief of staff for Mecklenburg County Health and Human Services.

But Tuesday was also about sharing lived experiences, from people who’ve been through addiction or are still going through it.

Karen King, a senior vice president with Hope Haven, said the most common misconceptions regarding the opioid crisis are that “it’s a choice, it’s based on demographics, it doesn’t affect certain communities, it can never happen to me.”

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“We just get to learn with each other,” said Lauren Kestner, an associate director with Harm Reduction Center. “That way, the providers and the community members, the folks that are impacted, can really understand who’s doing what, where resources are, how we can better serve the community.”

It was a gathering full of hope by people trying to make a difference.

“We want something to change ... it’s just sad to see people that I know, people that I trust, being taken by drugs,” Hunter said.

A recent report from Mecklenburg County shows that more than 800 people have been to the emergency room for opioid overdoses through the first three-quarters of the year -- that’s up 16% over last year.

Those statistics are real people that the folks at Hope Haven say they’re trying to help every day.

If you or someone you know needs help with substance abuse or addiction, you’re encouraged to call 1-800-662-HELP.

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