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‘We want to these companies to pay’: NC AG Josh Stein vows to keep hitting drug companies

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) — Holt Leary is doing well these days and celebrating being sober, but it hasn’t been an easy road and he’s still on a journey to full recovery.

The 18-year-old Raleigh man first started abusing drugs when he was 11.

He’s been to rehab three times and recently gave in to temptation.

“I relapsed, and I had a pretty hard relapse. I relapsed on meth and ended up in a barn in New Bern,” Leary said.

He offered his take on what could help youth during a brainstorming meeting Tuesday on how to battle the opioid epidemic.

“More specialized counseling in the public school system,” Leary said. “When I was in the midst of my addiction, I never wanted to talk about it because I felt alone and I felt helpless.”

North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein led negotiations for a national opioid settlement case and secured $750 million for the state. Every county is getting a share of money from this settlement.

Wake County will receive more than $36 million from the settlement. That money is designed to help youth battling opioid addiction.

“We are at the deadliest moment in the deadliest drug epidemic in American history,” said Stein. “We want these companies to pay for the damage that’s been done. We want it to be painful. We want it to serve as a deterrent to them and other companies going forward.”

The North Carolina Department of Justice said the number of unintentional opioid overdose deaths has more than doubled in the last decade.

Five people die every day. The number is now higher than those killed in car crashes.

In 2017, more than 2,000 North Carolinians passed away and that was a 32 percent increase over the previous year.

Stein vowed that he is not done fighting the drug companies.

“We reached a deal with Purdue Pharma, probably the most culpable of all companies, which is another $4 billion,” Stein said.

SouthLight Healthcare, which is Wake County’s largest provider of opioid services, is hoping to be a big recipient of the settlement money.

“What we’re seeing is as mental health becomes a bigger issue, we’re also seeing opioid became a bigger issue. So the two really go hand-in-hand. Here in our community, we’re seeing more and more folks wind up at the emergency rooms, we’re even seeing it as young as middle school students now, which is really concerning,” said SouthLight CEO Adam Hartzell.

Leary is looking forward to his future. He’s preparing to go to Wake Tech and continue helping other kids.

“People look down on it still even though so many more people struggling with it nowadays, and I think learning about how the mind works when you get addicted to such substances (is good),’ said Leary.

Wake County said it is planning to take its settlement money and spread it over the next 18 years.

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