NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC – During Tuesday’s meeting, the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners unanimously adopted the county’s first Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Strategic Plan. This strategic plan will help guide the county’s priorities and funding decisions in the coming years, utilizing money from the nationwide opioid settlement and the county’s mental health and substance use disorder fund.
“So many lives in our community have been impacted, altered or lost because resources were not readily accessible to address mental health and substance use disorders,” said New Hanover County Commissioner Jonathan Barfield, Jr. who was a key participant in the strategy’s development. “Today is a monumental day for our county because this plan will help ensure we move forward with strategic direction in what we fund and how we fund it, so that we are focused on the best outcomes and can make significant strides in addressing these issues and helping those who need it most.”
Since 2018 New Hanover County has prioritized preventing and reducing opioid misuse as a key strategic objective. While there were initial improvements throughout the community, there has also been significant loss since the beginning of the pandemic. Research shows that one of the primary drivers of substance use disorders is mental health and wellbeing. During the first seven months of 2022, New Hanover County experienced 15 deaths caused by suicide, 36 deaths related to opioids and a total of 299 individuals who overdosed. These numbers are just a small piece of a larger dataset that shows the need for a comprehensive approach to addressing substance use disorders while also including a strong focus on mental health.
To help develop this plan, a stakeholder group consisting of mental health and substance use disorder providers in New Hanover County, community partners, representatives from law enforcement and the local judicial system, Commissioners Barfield and Zapple, and staff from multiple county departments was formed. This group met eight times over a five-month span, reviewing data and trends collected by multiple agencies, while listening to consumers of mental health and substance use disorder services share their experiences before, during, and after treatment. The group also consulted with representatives from the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners and the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Secretary, Kody Kinsley, to develop a complete understanding of the needs, gaps, and opportunities.
“What we learned through this process was truly eye-opening and really drove home just how important it was that we get this strategy right,” said New Hanover County Commissioner Rob Zapple. “This is an issue that doesn’t discriminate. It has touched lives across every demographic in our community. We firmly believe that this strategy can help inform our decisions for the funding we have in the years to come, so we can make getting help easier to access for people during a very difficult time and ensure the right services are right here in our community.”
The county’s strategy focuses on providing wraparound services for people before, during and after they seek help for a mental health or substance use disorder. This includes components aimed at education and outreach, accessing service and treatment, and helping support recovery and overall wellbeing. Specific measures for each category have been established to help track progress and success.
Funding for this overall strategy will come from two sources: the county’s $50 million Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Fund and opioid settlement funds that will bring around $18.4 million to the county over the next 18 years.
Initial recommendations on how to spend the opioid settlement and mental health and substance use disorder funds, based on the adopted strategy, will be further researched and discussed over the coming months. The Board of Commissioners will be responsible for voting and approving any final funding decisions, which will be part of the annual budget process each year.
Click here for a complete look at the Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Strategy.