Ohio lawmakers are asking good questions about the money that Gov. John Kasich’s proposed budget would devote to the state’s opioid epidemic and the collateral damage from it.
Last week, Republican and Democrat legislators said they are concerned that the budget does not do enough. The concern is warranted. Ohio leads the nation in drug-overdose deaths, with 3,050 recorded in 2015, the most recent year with complete statistics.
CNN reported on Wednesday that the Montgomery County coroner’s office is overwhelmed by the number of deadly overdose cases it is handling, which already totals at least 145 this year. The same report noted that fatal overdoses handled by Cuyahoga County more than doubled from 2015 to 2016, going from 228 to 517. In the first week of February, Cuyahoga County recorded at least 24 fatal drug overdoses. Over two days the same week, Chillicothe reported 12 overdoses, including one fatality.
In this context, lawmakers are right to question the governor’s budget. The Kasich administration says Ohio is spending $940 million a year to fight the plague of drug deaths, with about $650 million provided as a result of Medicaid expansion that provides tens of thousands of Ohioans with health care they previously didn’t have.
But Rep. Nickie Antonio, D-Lakewood, said, “A less-than-1-percent increase for mental-health and drug-addiction services is not what I was expecting to see in this budget,” adding, “Tell me how this budget is going to make a difference, save lives and put resources in our communities?”
The chairman of the House Finance Committee, Rep. Ryan Smith, R-Bidwell, noted that the expansion does not mean that Medicaid patients are getting more access to drug treatment. He said that expanding treatment would be a priority for lawmakers.
Tracy Plouk, head of the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, said the state is seeking $26 million from the federal government to expand the availability of treatment.
On the issue of collateral damage, Antonio also asked why state support for child-protective services has remained flat while foster-care placements have risen 11 percent since 2010 and the cost of those placements has increased by 17 percent. Many of these additional placements have occurred because of drug abuse by parents.
In September, the nation was shocked by a photo from East Liverpool showing a man and woman unconscious in their stopped vehicle, with the woman’s 4-year-old son looking on from a car seat in the back. The boy was placed with Columbiana County Children’s Services. On Feb. 1, a 5-year-old was found running down the street and crying that his parents were dead in their home in Mad River Township. Authorities found the parents unconscious from overdoses, but still alive.
In a Jan. 13 column for The Dispatch, David W. Haverfield, director of Tuscarawas County Job & Family Services, recounted the heartwrenching story of a social worker who had to tell a young girl that her father, the only family she had, had just died of an overdose.
Drug overdoses produce lifetime scars carried by young victims like these.
Given these circumstances, Ohio legislators are right to question the governor’s budget. Ohio is in the grip of a plague that shows no signs of abating. Stronger efforts are needed to combat it.
— The Columbus Dispatch