The drug abuse problem experienced in Highland County and across southern Ohio is being felt in all corners of the Buckeye State, and on Wednesday state Supreme Court justices and other high-ranking officials huddled to discuss ways to coordinate efforts to battle the epidemic in a judicial summit.
In Highland County, heroin overdoses, meth labs and illegal prescription pill dealing are law enforcement headaches that lead to consequences such as the growth in the number of children needing foster care and the struggle to pay for such care. Just Wednesday, Highland County Commissioner Shane Wilkin noted that the increase in costs of foster care here are “mainly due – 80-percent plus – to opiate abuse,” which results in children removed from their homes.
As a result, taxpayers are being asked to approve levies designed to help officials combat the drug problem and its aftermath.
As reported by The Times-Gazette last month, the Paint Valley Alcohol, Drug Addiction & Mental Health Services (ADAMH) Board has announced that it is placing a levy on the November general election ballot. The funds that would be generated from the 1-mill, 10-year property tax levy would be used to provide better access to treatment, detoxification, crisis services, and promoting prevention in the five-county area that includes Highland County, according to ADAMH Board Chairman Jack Clark of Circleville.
If passed by voters in the counties covered by the organization, the levy would generate roughly $4.5 million annually. The cost to a homeowner on a $100,000 property would be approximately $35 per year.
“Funding from state and federal sources has not kept pace with the need as our communities face the opiate epidemic,” Paint Valley ADAMH Associate Director Penny Dehner said in announcing the decision to ask for the levy. “The opiate epidemic has long-reaching and long-lasting effects on children and families struggling with addiction. This indicates a greater need to provide additional mental health and prevention services to children and families.”
At the same time, county commissioners last month approved placing a a 1.9-mill property tax levy on the ballot to support Children Services, mainly due to the foster care problem. If passed, that levy would be for five years and would cost the owner of a $100,000 property $59.85 a year.
At Wednesday’s summit, Ohio Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor stressed the need for improving collaboration across borders and jurisdictions at the opening of the three-day, nine-state conference in Cincinnati. Among initial priorities are identifying best practices for testing and treatment services and increasing access to prescription drug data, the Associated Press reported.
“The importance and effectiveness of integrating opioid prevention, intervention, treatment and recovery efforts across government and state lines cannot be overstated,” O’Connor said. “In fact, there is no other choice.”
O’Connor said rehabilitation, treatment and other anti-drug programs can be complicated when offenders and families move to new states. There is also an impact on child custody, with parental drug problems becoming a leading issue in such cases.
“What happens in Michigan impacts Tennessee, what occurs in West Virginia influences Illinois, and what affects Pennsylvania makes its mark in Kentucky,” O’Connor said. The text of her remarks to the closed conference was provided to The Associated Press.
She said anti-drug efforts must go beyond arrest, jail and release, which have led to high rates of return to criminal behavior and incarcerations.
Kentucky Chief Justice John Minton also spoke Wednesday morning, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich was scheduled to speak to the group Thursday afternoon.
Federal and state authorities and private sector experts planned to provide briefings to the court officials. What’s called the Regional Judicial Opioid Initiative is meant to begin continuing regional planning and action on opioid abuse, mainly from prescription painkillers and heroin.
The states participating are Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.
Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia were among the five states with the highest rates of drug overdose deaths in 2014, while Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia were among 14 states that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identified with significant drug overdose death rate increases from 2013 to 2014.
Similarly, at an informational meeting held last year, Hillsboro Police Chief Todd Whited said that 82 drug busts were made in Hillsboro in 2010, but that number nearly doubled in 2014.
Underscoring the problem, Cincinnati police reported a surge of drug overdoses this week, saying there were as many as 30 on Tuesday. They were investigating and said no deaths had been reported.