Butler County’s top stories of 2017: Fighting opioids, finding funds

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Butler County’s top stories of 2017: Fighting opioids, finding funds

Butler County wrestled with financial pressures from exterior sources and the burgeoning opiate epidemic this year, and officials worked to find solutions to the problems.

Here are five of the biggest stories from the county this year:

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1. Loss of Medicaid sales tax

Counties across the state learned last they must operate with the loss of millions in Medicaid managed care sales tax after the federal government deemed the collection improper. To Butler County, that means $3.1 million.

The county commissioners met with State Sen. Bill Coley and State Rep. Candace Keller earlier this year, beseeching them to find the promised permanent fix to the tax loss. They learned Gov. John Kasich had found a solution to solve the state’s loss, but the one-time payment to counties wouldn’t be a permanent solution, and distribution would be based on a county’s ability to raise money elsewhere.

Butler County Commissioner Don Dixon sent a message to the governor on this point.

“The message I want to send to the governor is look, just leave us alone,” he said. “If you want to raise taxes, then raise taxes on your own signature, don’t shove it down the line to us and say ‘here, you have the ability to do it’ (raise taxes), after he has cut the budget in so many places nobody can survive.”

Commissioner T.C. Rogers reported last week that although legislators tried to devise a fix, the money is now gone forever.

Because county officials as a whole have been thrifty in recent years, the county will be able to operate on a structurally balanced general fund budget of $97.9 million next year.

Fairfield police Officer Scott Webb displays his radio. Butler County commissioners inked a $10 million deal with Motorola for an upgrade of the emergency responder communications system. GREG LYNCH/STAFF Staff Writer

2. New communications system came for $19.2 million

Butler County Administrator Charlie Young said he asked the sheriff’s office to hold off on the Motorola communication system and radio replacement as long as possible. Time was up this year.

Motorola no longer makes the radios all first responders carry, and the communications equipment giant won’t service the devises past 2018. The original replacement price tag was $19.2 million.

The county was able to negotiate a $10 million deal that includes 1,000 – the original purchase was for 3,100 radios – radios and the new system. Motorola still honored the half price offer it had extended for the larger order and the price is good through March 30.

About 300 radios are available for the local jurisdictions to buy and those places are still mulling the direction they will go.

The commissioners will pay $3 million in cash and recently approved $7 million in bond anticipation notes.

Middletown paramedics and police officers respond to a drug overdose in June 2017. STAFF FILE PHOTO Staff Writer

3. About-face on levy for addiction services

The Mental Health and Addiction Recovery services Board (MHARS) told the commissioners earlier this year they needed to to ask voters to approve a combined 0.7 mill levy in May to battle the burgeoning opiate epidemic.

When the mental health and addiction boards merged several years ago, they were told they could not use mental health levy funds to support addition services. A second look at the issue by the county prosecutor has changed that view, because addiction is considered a form of mental illness.

“We realized that the mental health board was restricting their use of funds more than is required by the levy language,” County Administrator Charlie Young said. “So they are able to utilize those funds more effectively than we realized.”

MHARS board officials believe the $15 to $18 million in reserves they have banked will meet their needs. 

Executive Director Scott Rasmus said they likely won’t need to go for another levy until 2020.

Butler County Magistrate Pat Wilkerson presides over the new Family Treatment Drug Court with program coordinator Jolynn Hurwitz in the Historic Courthouse in Hamilton. Staff Writer

4. Resurrecting its family drug court

Adoptions were on the rise due to parents who cannot kick their opiate addictions, so Butler County Children Services, the Juvenile Court and mental health and addiction board teamed up to resurrect the family treatment drug court.

When discussions about the court surfaced last year JFS Executive Director Bill Morrison said he was very frustrated with the number of adoptions that are being required — they went from 35 in 2008 to a projected 82 last year — because parents can’t stay off drugs.

”We know heroin is a difficult addiction, but when we talk about the victims of the heroin epidemic, from my way of thinking, the victims are absolutely the kids of the heroin addicts,” Morrison said. “They’re not asking to be part of this. They’re not asking to come home after school and find mom in the bathroom passed out with a needle in her arm.”

For a number of years the juvenile court handled drug addiction cases through the use of an administrative hearing officer. Then the court received a five-year $2.5 million federal grant. From 2007 to 2012 the county was able to operate the family drug court until the funding fizzled.

The court received another five-year, $2.1 million grant this past fall.

The court has 11 clients now and will eventually be able to help about 60 clients at a time.

Butler County Prosecutor Mike Gmoser filed a civil lawsuit on behalf of the county commissioners against manufacturers and distributors of opiates. Staff Writer

5. Commissioners filed $5 million federal lawsuit against drug companies, distributors

The opiate epidemic is so pervasive and impacts so many county agencies that the county commissioners filed a multi-million dollar lawsuit against those they say allegedly caused the problem.

“It is wrecking both the lives of the individuals (addicted), the people who interact with, love and care about those individuals, but it is also placing a tremendous financial burden as well as a sociological burden on our communities,” said Butler County Administrator Charlie Young said.

The suit, originated with Prosecutor Mike Gmoser, is against 20 companies and was recently combined with cases from a number of other Ohio jurisdictions. Gmoser said it is not part of Attorney General Mike DeWine’s lawsuit but it is aligned with that case.

DeWine is mainly targeting manufacturers, the county’s is against both manufacturers and distributors.

Butler County’s lawsuit suggests drug manufacturers duped doctors into thinking they were helping patients by prescribing the drugs, when they were really assisting them in becoming addicts.

“Manufacturer defendants’ marketing efforts were ubiquitous and highly persuasive,” the lawsuit states. “Their deceptive messages tainted virtually every source doctors could rely on for information and prevented them from making informed treatment decisions. Manufacturer defendants also were able to harness and hijack what doctors wanted to believe — namely, that opioids represented a means of relieving their patients’ suffering and of practicing medicine more compassionately.”

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