WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — A controversy years in the making is back in the spotlight, as the Healing Place continues construction in Wilmington.
During a recent visit, Attorney General Josh Stein said medically assisted treatment, or “MAT” is the gold standard of care, but that type of treatment is not being offered at the Healing Place, a new detox facility being built to address our area’s opioid crisis.
Stein praised Coastal Horizons for its work and use of MAT, and yet Coastal Horizons was not tapped to run the new 200 bed addiction detox facility because of its use of MAT to treat addiction.
“I wish it the best success,” said CEO Margaret Stargell during Stein’s visit. “But I assure you, as I said, we’ve been doing this for a number of years. And without every treatment option available, it will not succeed.”
The Healing Place, a drug and alcohol recovery facility is set to open in September. New Hanover County Commissioner Jonathan Barfield was the only vote against funding the facility after Trillium Health announced it would not be working with Coastal Horizons or providing medically assisted treatment.
“(To hear Josh Stein) emphatically say MAT is the gold standard, it gives me pause,” said Barfield in response to the Stein’s visit.
Coastal Horizons has helped thousands of men and women struggling with addiction. They recommend MAT for opioid addiction, saying it’s more successful in lowering cravings, easing withdrawal symptoms, and keeping addicts from relapse.
“Our big concern with people who are in recovery from opioid use disorder with no medication is that often times when they relapse, their body no longer has tolerance,” Coastal Horizon’s Kenny House explained. “And by not having tolerance, they’re at higher risk for overdose and death.”
In 2019, Wilmington City Council approved a special use permit for Trillium and the Healing Place to build a non-medical detox facility after Wilmington’s opioid addiction topped national charts. Mayor Bill Saffo attended those hours long meetings, but recently expressed concern over the Healing Place using peer-led methods instead of MAT.
Reporter: “Were you under the impression for most of the time or the whole time that this was going to be a medical treatment facility or a non medical detox facility?”
Saffo: “Well again, Peyton, we were a little confused because we had Margaret Weller Stargell there representing Coastal Horizons, which we know is medical treatment….and we had an organization that was talking about peer related, and we figured they would work it out ultimately in the long run.”
But back in 2019, Saffo and other council members approved the special use permit for a non-medical detox facility, not a facility using medically assisted treatment.
In the City’s 2019 meeting video, Trillium asked Council to approve the special use permit, stating they couldn’t sign a contract with Coastal until they had the building and location set.
“We have been working for several months now with Coastal Horizons, a known agency here in your community, one that’s been here 49 years treating addiction,” said a Trillium representative.
Throughout the meeting, attorneys representing nearby businesses, such as Delaney Radiology and Lower Cape Fear Lifecare worried the Healing Place’s non-medical stance wouldn’t be as effective as Coastal Horizons.
“There is absolutely no mention in the special use application regarding any medical staff,” said attorney, Melissa Gott in 2019’s meeting.
Others saying though Coastal Horizons could operate the project, its model and the Healing Place’s model at odds.
“No amount of management or the type of management can change what the Healing Place is,” said one local. ‘It’s not going to change based on whom is managing it.”
In 2020, Trillium chose another operator out of Kentucky, opting for the non-medical treatment Council had approved in the meeting instead of MAT or Coastal Horizons.
We asked Coastal Horizon’s Margaret Stargell: if you played a role in Healing Place, would it still be a non-medical detox facility?
“No,” she responded. “To have a facility that will not allow medication assisted treatment is just… it’s short sighted.”
“I’m hoping that what we have will be a bronze standard,” said Barfield after Stein called MAT the gold standard. “Somewhere close to where it needs to be.”
The Healing Place will not receive any funding from the opioid settlement fund because of its model, namely its inclusion of people with other addictions.
We reached out to Trillium and the Healing Place multiple times for comment. We have not heard back in the past week.
Read More:To medicate or not to medicate?: Breaking down the Healing Place controversy