There are as many as 170,000 Ohioans who abuse or are addicted to opioids, according to a recent study from the Ohio State University’s Swank Program in Rural-Urban Policy. Abuse of and addiction to prescription painkillers and heroin costs thousands of those people their families, their jobs, their homes and – in the case of nearly 11 people a day last year – their lives. As part of a series on recovery and roadblocks in the opioid crisis, Statehouse correspondent Karen Kasler reports the state’s response to the crisis has gotten mixed reviews.
Every year hundreds of people gather at the Statehouse with family, friends and others who helped them for the Rally for Recovery. Toby Cline is a recovering addict and professional wrestler from Mansfield. “This is great because people that are in a hopeless spot or at rock bottom or just need something can come here to these events and get hooked up with the programs that will work,” Cline said.
Gary Perez of Columbus says he was addicted to heroin for 15 years. “Once you go through that detox and you do that little 30 day program that they have there, then you’re out on the street and you have no furthermore recovery than that other than going out and going to meetings and doing things like that,” Perez said. “Without that, there’s nothing.”
Brenda Ryan of Cuyahoga Falls now works with treatment services after losing her daughter Sheena Moore to an overdose last year. “95 to 98% of these people do not have insurance or they have Medicaid. And to try to place somebody in detox or into recovery is near impossible,” Ryan said.
Money is a big part of getting people the help they need – specifically, state money. In October, Gov. John Kasich said he feels the state is fighting the epidemic appropriately. “We’ve had a giant increase in this period over the last few years. Do I think that spending a heck of a lot more money is gonna – you could always use more money. You could always have more recovery beds. You could always have this. But I think it's a significant increase, and we're starting to see results, because of the tightening of our prescribing guidelines. We’ve seen like a 20% reduction in the number of doses prescribed. So it's all working. But we're not gonna, we're not gonna get out of this overnight."
Kasich says deadly overdoses from prescription painkillers are at six-year low, and he credits the state’s crackdown on pills mills in 2011. But heroin deaths have spiked more than 300% since 2010, and deaths involving fentanyl are up nearly 10 times that. U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) is wondering about lawmakers’ reactions to the crisis. “They’re not doing enough. They’re not scaling up the treatment programs quickly enough,” Brown said. “Clearly the state legislature keeps trying to cut Medicaid spending.”
But House Finance Committee Chair Ryan Smith (R-Bidwell) counters that by saying $20 million was put into the budget for new treatment facilities, and more money was added for kinship care, child protective services and drug and mental health courts. “I’m a little bit offended, frankly,” Smith said of Brown’s comments. “I think we tried to address that even amidst a billion-dollar hole last year, and we put $180 million into it and I'm sure people can say it's not enough and that type thing. But you know we have to budget responsibly and I feel like we did that to try to address an epidemic that certainly needs some attention.”
The state Office of Budget and Management says starting in 2011, Kasich’s first year in office, money that’s being counted as opioid crisis battle funds kept pace with opioid deaths as tracked by the Ohio Department of Health. Funding skyrocketed in 2013, as Medicaid expansion was enacted in Ohio, and as fatal overdoses soared. But in the last two years, the numbers of overdose deaths have risen faster than the money the state says it’s putting aside to fight the epidemic. There’s no breakdown on federal money versus state funds. But the Kasich administration has said that two-thirds of the nearly billion dollars now being spent to fight the opioid crisis is federal money – including Medicaid expansion dollars, which could be at risk in the future.
Twice Democratic state lawmakers have called for money from the state’s rainy day fund – currently sitting at over $2 billion. Tracy Plouck heads the state’s Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services agency. She says the state has been treating this crisis as an emergency without the official declaration.
“We've introduced more resources. We have changed policy. We have worked to activate in collaboration with communities. And so I feel very strongly that we have been treating this like an emergency for the last six years,” Plouck said.
But as for the rainy day fund, the Kasich administration says the “budget stabilization fund” should be used as a last resort in a financial crisis.