Commissioners consider medication-assisted treatment endorsement

Buncombe County seal

According to Buncombe County Sheriff’s Department spokesperson Aaron Sarver, the county jail doesn’t yet know how much its planned medication-assisted treatment pilot program for inmates with opioid use disorder will cost or how long it will run. Yet even without those details, three members of the Board of Commissioners are asking their colleagues to formally support the proposal at the group’s regular meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 20, at 5 p.m. in room 326 at 200 College St.

Board chair Brownie Newman, Vice Chair Jasmine Beach-Ferarra and member Amanda Edwards have placed a resolution endorsing the Sheriff’s Office’s use of MAT on the commission’s agenda for the evening. The treatment, which combines controlled doses of drugs such as naltrexone or buprenorphine with counseling and therapy to mitigate the risks of opioid abuse disorder, is currently offered to the jail’s pregnant female inmates, but Buncombe officials hope to expand its availability to all incarcerated individuals.

“Detention facilities are on the front lines of [the opioid] epidemic, and they also are in a unique position to initiate treatment in a controlled, safe environment and to help people access a continuum of care, including mental health support and safe housing, as they re-enter our community,” the resolution reads. It also notes that State Opioid Response funds will be used to pilot the Buncombe program.

The planned MAT expansion was first brought before the board in May, when commissioners gave it a largely favorable response. Commissioner Mike Fryar, however, questioned whether the treatment would accomplish its goals. “You’ve got drug addicts, you’ve got drunks, you’ve got alcoholics. It’s plain and simple: We can’t change them,” he said.

In other business

The largest item on Tuesday’s agenda by financial impact is a proposed financing agreement with Banc of America Public Capital Corp to fund 40 new vehicles for the Sheriff’s Department. The cost of the vehicles is estimated at more than $1.65 million; once the lending agency’s fees and interest are taken into consideration, the total cost to the county is projected to exceed $1.82 million.

Fryar challenged Sheriff Quentin Miller over the necessity of the new vehicles at the Aug. 6 pre-meeting of the Board of Commissioners. “I’m riding around in a car that turned 180,000 [miles] this morning, and it still runs fine. As long as I don’t hear anything as far as the wheels falling off of it, I’m in good shape,” he said.

But Commissioner Robert Pressley, speaking at the same meeting, said former Sheriff Van Duncan had recently expressed an urgent call for more resources. “We have not been getting any vehicles over the last four years,” he said. “Van has nothing to gain or lose out of it; he says we need these vehicles very badly.”

Commissioners will also consider two education-related budget amendments. The first would allocate nearly $292,000 — in addition to over $1.93 million in previously approved funding — to purchase radio equipment for Buncombe County and Asheville City schools. The second would provide an extra $300,000 to A-B Tech for cellular communications and salary increases.

During a May meeting of the Board of Commissioners, A-B Tech President Dennis King estimated that the college would require $437,000 to make up for reduced state support of telecommunications. County Budget Director Jennifer Barnette, in a report available before the meeting, says that need was revised to $250,000 after the college found ways to cut its costs.

Consent agenda

The board’s consent agenda for the meeting contains six items, which will be approved as a package unless singled out for separate discussion. Highlights include resolutions to:

  • Reschedule the board’s pre-meetings to 3 p.m. on the first and third Tuesday of each month and move their location to 200 College St., Room 326. The change will go into effect for the board’s next pre-meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 3.
  • Accept $21,280 in federal funding for the county’s Women Infants and Children client services. A report available before the meeting notes that the money will be used to distribute “promotional items that are branded with the local agency logo,” with the goal of boosting program participation.
  • Allow County Manager Avril Pinder to enter a $32,400 contract with SCS Engineers to prepare and submit federal Clean Air Act compliance documents for the Buncombe County Landfill. The work includes an annual emissions inventory and greenhouse gas report, as well as documents required under the act’s Title V for “major sources of air pollutants.”

The board will hold a pre-meeting at noon in the first floor conference room of the same building. The full meeting agenda and supporting documents can be found here.

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About Daniel Walton
Daniel Walton is the Green Scene editor and a reporter for Mountain Xpress. His work has previously appeared in Capital at Play, Edible Asheville, and the Citizen-Times, among other area publications. Follow me @DanielWWalton

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