For three decades, the opioid addiction epidemic has marched on, taking one life after another in Guilford County as well as across the US.

Guilford County government – with funding from a national lawsuit filed by local and state governments against opioid manufacturers and distributors – is now set to launch a huge, well-funded, long-term counteroffensive meant to halt the epidemic locally and save lives that would otherwise be lost.

Guilford County commissioners and county staff discussed the epidemic and the damage it has caused the local community at the Board of Commissioners annual retreat on Thursday, Feb. 2 and Friday, Feb. 3.

The county has $21.7 million coming its way over the next 18 years to dedicate to the problem.  Guilford County is also planning to spend its own money, state money and grant money on the effort.

Guilford County took the first major step in the new initiative when the Division of Public Health named Amanda Clark as the very first “drug and injury prevention manager” – an opioid czar of sorts if you will.

Clark – who “will facilitate the development and implementation of the County’s opioid recovery strategies to reduce community prevalence in opioid-related injury and death” – was hired just before the retreat where county officials discussed guidelines and strategies meant to direct the new counteroffensive.

Guilford County is already doing things like offering free naloxone kits – overdose reversal kits, that is – and training residents how to use them.

Though the substance abuse response masterplan is still being formulated, many components expected to come were revealed at the retreat.

Those include expanding medical treatment, using telehealth more often in these cases, providing scholarships for behavioral health practitioners and enhanced counseling and peer support – and more county collaboration with the coalition of nonprofit groups and faith-based organizations now addressing the problem.

There may also be enhancements to the county’s pre-arrest diversion programs as well as upgrades in programs meant to ease inmate reentry into society.

County residents can also expect media campaigns on the dangers of opioid use, more education on the issue in schools and community-based education for families.  They will also see that there is greater naloxone distribution in schools and other places along with more training on its use.

In addition, strategies include more training for first responders and greater collaboration among all relevant groups including workforce development and homelessness.

The money for the effort will be coming in from the lawsuit for 18 years, with payments in the first three years higher than average so the county can jump start its anti-opioid abuse effort.

Chairman of the Board of Commissioners Skip Alston has made opioid abuse a high priority for the board in 2023 because he has made ending homelessness his highest priority – and Alston has said repeatedly that you can’t end the crisis of homelessness without ending or mitigating the crisis of drug abuse in the county.