Butler County will no longer ask for levy to fund opioid fight

Middletown paramedics and police officers responded to a drug overdose behind the Midd-Town Carry Out on Central Avenue Monday, June 26 in Middletown. Emergency personnel found a man unconscious, lying between two vehicles across the alley. Paramedics first tried to start an IV, the fastest and most effective way to push Narcan into the mans system, and when that failed, Narcan was administered through the mans nose. Then a second IV was started. The entire time, paramedics bagged the gentleman until his oxygen level returned to normal. Two doses of Narcan, twice the normal amount, were used to revive the man, who was transported to Atrium. In the matter of a few minutes, all 17 emergency personnel working Monday night in the city were on calls and the dispatcher requested mutual aid from the Monroe Fire Department. One of those calls was an overdose. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF
Middletown paramedics and police officers responded to a drug overdose behind the Midd-Town Carry Out on Central Avenue Monday, June 26 in Middletown. Emergency personnel found a man unconscious, lying between two vehicles across the alley. Paramedics first tried to start an IV, the fastest and most effective way to push Narcan into the mans system, and when that failed, Narcan was administered through the mans nose. Then a second IV was started. The entire time, paramedics bagged the gentleman until his oxygen level returned to normal. Two doses of Narcan, twice the normal amount, were used to revive the man, who was transported to Atrium. In the matter of a few minutes, all 17 emergency personnel working Monday night in the city were on calls and the dispatcher requested mutual aid from the Monroe Fire Department. One of those calls was an overdose. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

The Butler County mental health and addiction services board had intended on asking voters to approve a combined tax levy that includes addiction services in May, but now it says there is no need.

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.

RELATED: Butler County mental health and addiction board may ask for addiction levy

“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.”

The Mental Health and Addiction Recovery Services Board (MHARS) currently has about $15 to $18 million in reserves, which MHARS Executive Director Scott Rasmus said is more than enough to cover the $3.6 million-per-year opiate business plan that was approved last year but that the board has been unable to fund. That was why the board wanted to ask voters for help.

Rasmus said now it probably won’t have to ask the voters for a combined levy until 2020.

“Now we are taking our existing budget and recognizing we want to be good stewards of the taxpayers’ money we’re able to probably get out about three or four years,” Rasmus said.

MORE: Butler County mental health and addiction board has $3.6 million opiate epidemic plan

“Obviously you can’t think of every contingency, but as long as there isn’t a major change, such as Medicaid expansion going away, we should be able to support our opiate business plan and mental health services at a level we feel comfortable with.”

At the end of November the Butler County coroner’s office had 184 confirmed overdose deaths, and as of Thursday that number was up to 191 with several cases pending toxicology results, according to Martin Schneider, administrator of the office.

The opiate plan is a multi-pronged attack that includes detox services, recovery housing, 300 Narcan kits for family and friends, additional residential treatment beds and prevention education.

The $3.6 million plan was established a year and a half ago to tackle the opiate problem. Rasmus said unfortunately attempts to get outside funding haven’t been very successful. They have reallocated only $600,000 in state funding to the plan, before they began brainstorming with Young and the prosecutor.

He said they will likely use about $2 million worth of mental health levy reserve dollars, but they are still looking at other funding avenues.

“We may have 15 months worth of reserves now but with $2 million spent on the opiate business plan, plus mental health new programming, that’s going to pare that down from 15, to 12 to eight to six as you’re going out in years,” Rasmus said. “When you have reserves, you’ve got to make sure you can make it out to your next levy cycle.”

MORE: Butler County commissioners sue drug companies and distributors in federal court

The county commissioners recently sued drug companies and distributors for $5 million in federal court, hoping to be able to help attack the opiate epidemic. Commissioner T.C. Rogers said the problem is huge and people need to understand its reach is not just to the addicts themselves but all the county services — the jail, Children Services, court system are a few — that are impacted.

“There is a cost to society as a result of what’s happening here,” he said. “So how do you bring that cost down or make it manageable?”

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