Orange County Commissioner Sally Greene received statewide recognition Aug. 14 when she was named one of five winners of the 2021 North Carolina Outstanding County Commissioner Award by the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners (NCACC).
Greene was recognized for her contributions as a member of the 555 Committee, which was organized by the NCACC and helped develop the Memorandum of Agreement on the use of North Carolina’s share of national opioid settlement funds.
“I feel deeply honored to receive this recognition by my peers,” said Greene. “I’m also exceedingly grateful to Kevin Leonard, Executive Director of the NCACC, and attorneys Amy Bason and Paige Worsham for their tireless leadership.”
The 555 Committee is comprised of five commissioners, five county managers and five county attorneys and began meeting in March 2020. The NCACC provided staff support and guidance throughout the process.
“My experience in setting policy for improving criminal justice and mental health interventions and housing opportunities for those suffering from all kinds of substance use disorders had opened my eyes to the terrible consequences of the opioid epidemic--certainly for individuals and their families, and also for the community as a whole,” Greene said. “Two members of the committee are parents of young men who lost their lives to opioid overdose. These tragic losses were always in front of us, and this is what kept us motivated.”
The committee worked with the N.C. Department of Justice and Attorney General Josh Stein to develop a plan to distribute the state’s share of the historic $26 billion settlement. The agreement includes Cardinal, McKesson, and AmerisourceBergen – the nation’s three major pharmaceutical distributors – and Johnson & Johnson, which manufactured and marketed opioids.
“The opioid epidemic has torn families apart and killed thousands of North Carolinians,” said Stein. “While no amount of money will ever be enough, this settlement will force these drug companies to pay a historic amount of money to bring much-needed treatment and recovery services to North Carolina communities and to change their business practices so that something like this never happens again.”
Greene said each state was responsible for developing a plan to distribute the funds and for determining how the funds will be used. North Carolina is one of the first states to announce how it will distribute the funds, with up to 85 percent going to local governments.
According to the formula developed by the committee, Orange County’s share could be as much as $7.9 million over 18 years. The agreement also spells out how the funds can be used and requires counties to report their progress.
“Orange County, primarily through the existing work of the Criminal Justice Resource Department and the Sheriff’s Office, is well positioned to make efficient and productive use of the funding, for the direct benefit of people in need,” Greene said. “All of us on the committee are grateful to the Attorney General’s office for recognizing that counties are on the front lines: that counties, rather than the state, are in the best position to create and administer the most appropriate programs for treating and preventing opioid use disorder.”
Orange County has long been a leader in fighting the Opioid epidemic. The county received an NCACC Excellence in Innovation Award from the Local Government Federal Credit Union in 2017 for the creation of the Naloxone Access program. The county became the first health department in the state to take advantage of the 2013 Good Samaritan/Naloxone Access legislation, which allowed doctors, family and friends to administer naloxone to someone who overdoses on opioids, without being prosecuted.
Orange County was among the initial counties to join nationwide lawsuits against the drug distributors and drug makers, approving its participation in 2018.