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NC attorney general impressed by Buncombe County opioid addiction treatment program

By Hannah Mackenzie

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    BUNCOMBE COUNTY, North Carolina (WLOS) — North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein visited Asheville on Monday, July 25, to take a tour of the Buncombe County Detention Facility.

During his tour, Stein was briefed on the jail’s ‘MAT’ program. The “Medication-Assisted Treatment” program is an effort to help detainees recover from opioid addiction.

“I really believe that Buncombe County can really be a model to other counties across the state,” Stein said. “It’s all about attacking the crisis of the opioid epidemic.”

The attorney general’s tour follows on the heels of his opioid agreement announcement. The $26 billion settlement with three of the nation’s major opioid distributors and one manufacturer will be split between local and state governments across the United States. According to the Department of Justice, North Carolina will receive $750 million.

“We know that Buncombe County is going to have about $18 million over the 18 years and they’ll decide for themselves what are the most effective strategies to deploy,” Stein said. “[The money] can go to things like treatment facilities, detox facilities, recovery support services, harm reduction strategies that keep people alive until they’re ready to get the treatment they need to get healthy.”

Stein, who was impressed with the MAT program, is hopeful other North Carolina counties will utilize funds to implement similar options for inmates.

“There’s still only about 11 or 12 statewide that have [programs like MAT], but it is a movement going in the right direction,” Stein said.

The data reflects a positive trend, according to Sheriff Quentin Miller, but the long-term effects are unquantifiable.

“It’s an opportunity for us to save someone’s life and for me, that’s paramount,” Miller said. “Our percentages of people who are dying and overdosing has dropped, especially who have been inside our detention facility, so I call that a success.”

Lance Karner said he wishes it was around when he needed it.

“I tried getting detox medication when I was in jail, and I couldn’t get any kind of detox I was just detoxing cold turkey,” Karner said. “I’m grateful for where I’m at and the experiences that I had, but there’s no telling that that might have helped me, saved me a couple of years.”

Karner is now a harm reduction coordinator with Buncombe County Health and Human Services’ syringe exchange program. He is using his experiences to educate and connect with others.

“It opens up the door for communication,” Karner said.

According to data from the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office, over the last two years, 335 new detainees started the MAT program while behind bars.

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