Friday, June 14, 2024

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Commissioners endorse proposals for opioid settlement that include revival of specialized drug court

Alamance County’s commissioners have signed off on some proposed uses for the roughly $2.9 million that the county has, so far, received from a class action settlement with the manufacturers of certain prescription pain killers.

During their latest regularly-scheduled meeting last Monday (March 18), the commissioners gave their tentative nod to nearly $1.3 million in allocations out of the county’s share of this “national opioid settlement.” Included in this collection of outlays is a two-year appropriation for a trial court coordinator whose services will allow the local court system to reintroduce a “drug recovery court” that has been a long-standing goal of the county’s judicial officials.

The funds for this trial court coordinator are merely one facet of the county’s plan for its proceeds from the opioid settlement – a catchall for various deals that local, state, and federal authorities have collectively wrested from the manufacturers and distributers of certain opioid-based narcotics.

All told, this settlement is poised to distribute some $56 billion across the U.S. – including just over $16 million that Alamance County expects to receive over an 18-year period. According to Ashley Barber, who has overseen the local health department’s plans for the settlement, the county has already received $2,901,200.27 of this sum and anticipates another $590,463.92 by June 30.

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Ashley Barber

During last Monday’s meeting of Alamance County’s commissioners, Barber presented recommendations for $1,278,060 in outlays to county-administered programs and services that aim to address the fallout from opioid addiction. She also proffered suggestions for another $1,589,000 in contracted services that she told the commissioners will be farmed out over the coming months.

Among Barber’s recommendations for the first chunk of the settlement are $145,499 to provide first responders with naloxone to revive overdose victims, $400,000 for a “post overdose response team,” and $16,000 for strategic planning services. Barber also proposed $413,580 toward the lease on a new “diversion center” that will provide treatment alternatives to low-level drug offenders who’d otherwise wind up in the county jail. Formally christened the Alamance Behavioral Center, this facility is presently under construction along Kirkpatrick Road in Burlington. According to Alamance County’s manager Heidi York, this center may be ready for action as soon as this May, although she conceded that a formal ribbon cutting has yet to be scheduled.

The future diversion center, as shown under construction last fall.

Another of Barber’s proposed allocations called for the expenditure of $141,039 over two years to fund a peer support specialist who currently works in Alamance County’s jail. In the meantime, she suggested a two-year outlay of $161,842 for the aforementioned trial court coordinator, whose services will be key to the resurrection of a drug court in Alamance County.

The creation of this dedicated court session for low-level drug offenders has been something of a Holy Grail for many local judicial officials. Among the proposal’s chief backers has been Tom Lambeth, the county’s senior resident superior court judge, who presided over a previous incarnation of this court early in his judicial career, when he still a junior member of the district court bench.

Earlier this year, Lambeth appeared before the commissioners alongside current district court judge Larry Brown to lobby for the reinstitution of a specialized drug court. Lambeth recalled that this program had previously allowed him to expedite drug cases that would otherwise pile up on the court system’s docket. He regretfully added that this gambit came to an end with the expiration of a federal grant that had funded the trial court coordinator who scheduled those sessions. [See earlier coverage of their comments: http://Board endorses proposals for opioid settlement that include revival of specialized drug court]

Barber assured Alamance County’s commissioners that their acceptance of her proposed outlay for a new trial court coordinator would enable the local court system to bring back the drug recovery court that Lambeth found so effective.

“If approved,” she added, “we can expect recovery court to be up and running in less than a year.”

The commissioners went to vote 5-to-0 in favor of Barber’s recommendations for the proposed trial court coordinator and the various other county-administered programs and services.

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