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UNC Center for the Business of Health partners with Acadia Healthcare on opioid settlement guidance

Shot of a group of unrecognisable medical practitioners joining their hands together in unity

The University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School’s Center for the Business of Health (CBOH) and Acadia Healthcare have announced a partnership to fund a two-year project to create an adaptable opioid settlement playbook for state, municipal and local governments to effectively address America’s opioid epidemic.

The project’s goal is to review the opioid epidemic’s deep impact, address untested or under-researched treatment and prevention approaches, and develop best practice recommendations tailored to individual communities. A key objective of the playbook is to develop the most effective ways for communities to use opioid settlement funds.

The partnership with Acadia Healthcare comes as thousands of communities across the U.S. are receiving money to support for opioid recovery efforts, the result of legal settlements with opioid manufacturers and pharmacy chains. North Carolina has already received about $30 million in settlement funds of the nearly $758 million coming to North Carolina communities through 2038.

“States and municipalities are receiving these funds without any guidance on how best to deploy them,” said Professor Brad Staats, CBOH faculty director and senior associate dean for strategy and academics at UNC Kenan-Flagler. “As settlement funds flow into communities across the country and North Carolina, we hope a playbook will help guide policy and other decision makers as they allocate resources.”

“States have significant latitude on how to deploy funds in different ways to meet the needs of local communities,” said Dr. Nasser Khan, president of Acadia Healthcare’s Comprehensive Treatment Centers Group.

“It is critical to create transparency around how these decisions are made and to ensure that stakeholders are leveraging evidence-based guidelines and best practices,” continued Dr. Khan. “Support from Acadia Healthcare creates a unique partnership that enables UNC-Chapel Hill to develop tools, insights and publications that will better inform settlement fund recipients and ultimately improve communities affected by the opioid crisis.”

A portion of the research will narrow to North Carolina, with researchers developing recommendations most relevant to the state, especially among underserved communities. The project, now underway, is expected to be completed by the end of 2024.

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services reported a 40% increase in overdose deaths in the state in 2020 compared to 2019, an increase it said was driven primarily by opioids. According to the National Institutes of Health, 1.2 million people 12 and older in the U.S. had an opioid use disorder in 2018. Opioids include a range of prescription pain medications such as oxycodone, as well as heroin and fentanyl, a synthetic opioid.

The center is uniquely equipped to help address these challenges leveraging rigorous research and faculty expertise across UNC’s world-class schools and departments, as well as convening thought leaders and key community stakeholders across disciplines to discuss how to maximize the return on investment of these public health measures.

The work will be interdisciplinary, with CBOH researchers partnering with Carolina departments and units, including CREATE/NCGrowth, a multistate economic development center that is part of UNC Kenan-Flagler’s Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise.

Through the Student Teams Achieving Results Program, business students, including dual-degree students, will research gaps in treatment and help develop strategies for business-specific problems related to fighting the epidemic, including treatment program cost and market segmentation.

“A core component of our vision at the CBOH is to build strong corporate and community partnerships that improve health and well-being in the state of North Carolina and beyond,” said Zoey Kernodle, CBOH director. “Our partnership with Acadia epitomizes how we hoped this vision would manifest.”

The CBOH prepares business leaders to address important conversations around the business of health. The center includes faculty and staff from UNC Kenan-Flagler and other top-ranked programs, including the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy, UNC School of Medicine and the UNC School of Nursing.

Acadia Healthcare operates 151 comprehensive treatment centers – including six in North Carolina – that provide medicine assisted treatment, counseling and therapy programs, as well as community support services, for people recovering from opioid use disorder.