Onslow Co. works to battle the opioid crisis with new treatment center


ONSLOW COUNTY, N.C. (WNCT)–The opioid epidemic is running rampant across the nation, but in North Carolina, it’s especially a concern.

In Onslow County, leaders are saying enough talk, it’s time for action.

That action comes in the form of a building that is meant to bring a brighter future to Onslow County.

Almost a decade ago, it was the first step in treating those with mental and substance abuse issues, but then, the provider left, and so did the treatment.

“I couldn’t believe this building was standing and wasn’t being utilized and it’s county property,” Robin Knapp, Onslow County commissioner, said.

Knapp says that was his first thought when he learned the building was available for at the time what was only a grand dream: a crisis center for those struggling with substance abuse issues in the county; which ranks 12th in the nation for opioid abuse.

Knapp is a former narcotics officer, and he recognized the need for local treatment.

“In 23 years you see a lot of things in this county,” he said. “You see the escalation of narcotics use, whether it be crack cocaine, MDMA, heroin, oxycotin.”

So the Board of Commissioners created the Onslow Carteret Oversight Committee, a joint task force, in January 2017, with one goal in mind.

“There’s a lot of talking and an agreement that we need to do something,” Knapp said. “We need to find the money, we need to find the facility, but we already had a facility so why don’t we utilize that facility instead of it just sitting there.”

It’s a welcome solution for law enforcement in the county, which faced a strain on its resources because of the gap in treatment.

“A lot of times regular crime, breaking and entering, crimes of violence, domestic violence crime, sometimes even child abuse is related to drug abuse,” Sheriff Hans Miller said.

On top of that, Miller said there is a revolving door created by sending those who need help to jail instead of to treatment.

“If these individuals don’t have a treatment option they go to jail for however long, they come out without any intervention, and they’re being re-arrested,” he said.

The decision to use the property came with a host of issues and at the top of the list was funding.  With the help of Senator Harry Brown, the county won a Dorthea Dix Grant to use for capital expenditures.

But the facility is only one of the first steps for combating the epidemic. Patients will be treated for around a week, and need to be transferred to a long term facility to continue detoxing.

“It’s only going to get worse before it gets better,” David Cotton, county manager, said. “This is a long term commitment. We’re talking decades.”

As part of that commitment the county filed a lawsuit against drug manufacturers in December 2017.

“Assuming that we’re successful, we will use those monies to fund not only the crisis center, but the education piece, the law enforcement piece, as well as the long term care,” he said.

And then, comes getting a provider to take over. The county says there are about five interested right now.

“This building represents hope,” Knapp said. “It also represents what people can do when they work together instead of talking about it they’re putting that plan into action and taking a step forward and not being afraid of where that step’s going to land.”

The crisis center is scheduled to open in August 2018.

On March 5, Craven County pledged $300,000 to help open the center.

“Craven County was the final partner to sign on,” said Sheria Slater, assistant county manager in Onslow County. “And in doing so, they’ve helped us reach the amount of funds that we needed to be able to run this crisis center in a way that will support the community’s needs.”

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