The chief justice of the Ohio Supreme Court says Butler County officials may have identified a key component to defeating the heroin epidemic right in their own backyard.
The Butler County commissioners touched on using the old Resolutions jail for heroin addiction sober living care on Thursday, and Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor said it could be a regional solution to the horrific plague that has permeated the entire state.
O’Connor, Governor John Kasich and Attorney General Mike DeWine convened a summit last month to address the heroin epidemic. O’Connor said 83 out of 88 counties sent representatives to the conference — proof positive there is a huge problem.
“It was a great turn out, we got great results, we had a great program,” she said. “The biggest shame is that we have to have it. I’d rather be in the position where we didn’t have 900 participants because then it wouldn’t be that big of a problem. The fact that we had 83 out of 88 counties and 900 people there, that just speaks for itself.”
There are groups and individuals from all corners of Butler County working on the heroin epidemic. A task force has been hard at work for over a year; Probate Judge Randy Rogers has a program whereby relatives can force their loved ones into treatment; and Prosecutor Mike Gmoser plans to use knowledge he has gleaned by talking to addicts, to turn children away from the drugs before they try it. Public officials and private citizens are attempting to address every facet of the addiction problem and a sober living facility at Resolutions is just another idea emerging.
Butler County commissioners this week put plans for turning a wing of the County Care Facility into a short-term detox unit on hold, while concerns about safety and other issues are addressed. Commissioner Don Dixon said part of the reason he objects to the plan is that after many addicts become clean, even with intensive counseling, they return to their old habits when they get home. He said taxpayers should not have to repeatedly foot the bill for people who can’t stay off drugs.
Sheriff Richard K. Jones came out on Friday blasting the idea of using the county nursing home for detox, for the same safety concerns Dixon has voiced. He said addicts might be benign when they are being weened off the drug, but eventually they’ll crave it again. They become desperate and are willing even to “prostitute out their own loved ones” to get it, the sheriff said.
“I’m telling you, this is absolutely, 100 percent wrong,” Jones said. “I would hate to see any of the aging residents of our County Care Facility be taken advantage of, or worse yet, somehow suffer a greater loss of health or safety.”
Dixon suggested this week that rather than use the County Care Facility for a detox unit, perhaps the shuttered Resolutions jail facility might serve a purpose both for detox and as a sober living facility. Care Facility Administrator Chuck Demidovich said that would be the ultimate solution.
“When you look at a building like Resolutions, that’s exactly what it could be used for. It meets all kinds of positive requirements…that is where these folks need to have some access to,” he said. “That’s a severe shortage in Butler County. From the in-house to the sober living environment, there’s a total lack there.”
Dixon said the sober living component is a must, however, local dollars alone cannot create the solution. He said state and federal dollars would likely be needed to turn the county’s portion of Resolutions into a sober living facility, and he is not certain the county should even be involved to that extent.
”If the private sector can do it, we’ve got no business in it anyway,” he said.
John Bohley, executive director of the Alcohol and Drug Addiction Board, said they have already submitted a request for $100,000 from the state to renovate the portion of Resolutions that is owned by Community Behavioral Health — the county owns the other half — for a recovery facility.
“It would allow people who don’t have stable living arrangements to have a place to live while they are receiving outpatient treatment,” Bohley said. “It would also provide them with a place to live after they complete outpatient treatment, until they are able to move out on their own and feel comfortable living independently.”
While all of these various efforts are going on, the state in the budget bill just took away $1.3 million in funding for the ADAS board, according to Bohley. He said the state realigned a federal block grant, taking a third of it away, and took back one-time monies that were going to the local boards for the coming year.
Eric Wanndersleben, the director of media relations with the Ohio Department of Mental Health & Addiction Services, said the governor has taken many steps to ensure that mental health and addiction problems are being addressed. He noted the expansion of Medicaid is a major step that opens services up to a broader population. Butler County is expected to receive $1.5 million from the expansion annually.
“The biggest gain occurred when Governor Kasich extended Medicaid coverage, infusing $557 million in fiscal year 2015 into physical and behavioral health services for Ohioans living with mental illness or addiction, in addition to freeing up $70 million annually in county-funded clinical services,” he said.
O’Connor said the governor committed himself during his speech at the symposium to do more to fiscally help fight the epidemic.
“The governor said, ‘We will scrape together some dollars,’” she said. “So that was kind of a glimmer of hope.”
O’Connor said local governments need to realize that the epidemic is not just the state and federal government’s responsibility. She said Butler County could help fund the potential Resolutions solution through intergovernmental cooperation, like the sheriff currently does by renting space in his jail to other law enforcement agencies.
“There’s got to be a collaborative effort,” she said. “It’s not just a state problem, it’s not a federal problem… it’s (also) a local community problem… This is hand-to-hand combat with heroin and the addiction on the local level. All of those resources and more need to be employed here.”
O’Connor said the symposium participants will be sending in what they have identified as the highest priorities for their counties and will reconvene in November. Butler County Drug Court Judge Keith Spaeth said preliminarily, their group identified detox and sober living facilities as top priorities. He said the Resolutions solution seems ideal.
Spaeth agreed with Dixon and said the county ought to send out requests for proposals from treatment experts like Community Behavioral Health and Talbert House, let them go out and find grants and run the facility as a detox and sober living place.
“That’s what we spend a lot of time on in drug court is you have to get people a place to stay,” he said. “More times than not they can’t go back with their family. Even if there aren’t drugs in the home, they just back into this enabling relationship that they have and then they don’t make process.”