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Team Spotlight: 8th Judicial District Opioid Crisis Team

Written by: Emily Gangi

After a 2011 decision by the state of North Carolina to remove funding for drug court programs, communities and courts like North Carolina’s 8th Judicial District began collaborating to find another way. Advocates like Chief District Judge Elizabeth Heath were determined to keep drug courts open to help low-level offenders addicted to drugs receive treatment and avoid prison while on probation. “We began seeing an increase in use of opioids, heroin and meth around that time,” said Heath. “The commissioners and health departments from our three-county district immediately began looking at ways to collaborate and deal with the growing crisis.”



Co-Author: Mary Parry

After a 2011 decision by the state of North Carolina to remove funding for drug court programs, communities and courts like North Carolina’s 8th Judicial District began collaborating to find another way. Advocates like Chief District Judge Elizabeth Heath were determined to keep drug courts open to help low-level offenders addicted to drugs receive treatment and avoid prison while on probation. “We began seeing an increase in use of opioids, heroin and meth around that time,” said Heath. “The commissioners and health departments from our three-county district immediately began looking at ways to collaborate and deal with the growing crisis.”

By 2017, the 8th District, comprised of Greene, Lenoir and Wayne counties, had formed an Opioid Task Force. The group was interested in working together on projects related to harm reduction and medication-assisted treatment. Judge Heath was invited to join the task force because of her experience and commitment in the drug courts. Funding was top of mind and the team lacked an experienced grant writer. “We were shooting in the dark,” said Heath. “It was in the process of trying to search for and find funding opportunities that we were connected with the Opioid Response Project at the UNC School of Government.”

Because of connections made through the Opioid Response Project, the 8th District Opioid Crisis Team found the support they need to collect data and apply for significant funding. The team has written and submitted two significant three-year grants that would go a long way in advancing their work. They hope to add an administration position to the task force, along with a peer support specialist who can help deliver the services and support needed in the community. “It’s so much more difficult for rural communities to seek funding,” said Heath. “We have fewer resources to pull from, including help with the nuances of grant writing. Being involved with the Opioid Response Project helped us find a grant writer – someone to stick with us and navigate the process until the application was submitted.”

Other ongoing needs in the counties involve transitional housing for women, transportation support, and training that came to a stop in 2011 along with the drug court funding. “We are hopeful that grant funding will help us address these growing needs,” said Heath. “These issues overlap with the interests of our entire community, whether you’re in drug court or you’re not.”

 

The 8th District’s community collaboration has been impressive, according to project manager Brandy Harrell, Behavioral Health Director of the Kinston Community Health Center. “The support we have had from our county commissioners, from the Department of Social Services, and the rehab community has really helped to increase understanding and awareness about the opioid epidemic,” said Harrell. “Being involved with the Opioid Response Project has strengthened our collaboration in a way that will benefit our community even after the project ends.”

To learn more about the Opioid Response Project coordinated by the ncIMPACT Initiative, please visit: https://www.sog.unc.edu/opioidresponseproject.

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