COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Hamilton County Commissioner Denise Driehaus testified this week before the Ohio House of Representatives Finance Committee, asking for the state to invest nearly $1.5 million to fight the county's heroin epidemic.
“I think the heroin epidemic is ravaging our communities. It’s destabilizing families. We’re losing people, and especially in Hamilton County, where we have such a high rate of overdoses and deaths,” the Democrat and former state representative told WCPO. “It’s the most critical issue in the state, and that’s why we’re here today.”
The money requested would go to various programs created under the Hamilton County Heroin Coalition, which was established two years ago to help reduce the number of heroin deaths and people who use heroin in the county.
Driehaus said she chose to request funding for individual initiatives so that the Finance Committee would best understand what the coalition does to combat the epidemic.
Which programs would see an increase in funding?
1) She requested $633,000 for Quick Response Teams.
These teams combine individuals from various agencies to visit homes of people who have recently been administered naloxone as a result of an overdose. Driehaus said the money would provide for three additional teams on top of the three existing teams, which are run on a partnership with two nonprofit organizations and local law enforcement.
“It’s this great partnership with law enforcement, and EMTs and social workers,” Driehaus said. “The rate of success we’re having with those quick response teams is tremendously high. So, like, 80 percent of the folks that get a visit from the QRT go into treatment. We have a program that works. We’re hoping that they will help us fund it.”
2) She asked for an additional $200,000 to be allocated to the County Jail Recovery Pod.
“Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Neil has pioneered a program within the Hamilton County Justice Center to reduce recidivism and set inmates on the path to recovery,” Driehaus said in her pre-written testimony. “The voluntary program segregates inmates struggling with addiction into a separate pod and provides peer support, psycho-social therapies, and Medically Assisted Treatment. The program also links participants who are exiting the jail with treatment agencies and peer mentors.”
The current program was created for women in 2016; however, Driehaus said the county would invest $200,000 of its own into expanding the program to include men this year. The commissioner said the money from the state would be used to expand “evidence-based educational programming” in addition to sustaining medical treatments used in the “pod.”
3) Driehaus also asked the state to provide 5,000 doses of naloxone to the county for a total of $170,000.
She said the county administered 5,092 doses of the life-saving drug last year. Naloxone is a drug administered to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.
4) She requested an increase in funding to Child Protective Services.
In her testimony, she said the number of children in the Hamilton County foster care system is at its highest level in at least 20 years, with 1,100 children needing long-term care. She supported a $20 million statewide increase to child welfare originally proposed by the Public Children Services Association of Ohio, and a $300,000 annual payment to kinship providers who are not eligible for federal assistance.
Finally, she said the county needed $120,000 from the state to connect individuals with recovery resources as part of The Addiction Services Council’s Help Line.
That 24/7 line exists to connect individuals with addiction treatment centers.
“It’s important that the state be a partner in the work that we’re doing in Hamilton County and other parts of the state to try to tackle the heroin epidemic, and so the more resources we receive from the state and from the federal government, the more we can do to save lives in Hamilton County,” Driehaus said.
Driehaus stressed that the county is already funding these programs at the local level, but said the state money is needed to further expand the already existing programs.
When she was a state representative, Driehaus was the ranking Democrat on the same committee she testified in front of Wednesday. She was elected county commissioner in November.
Read Driehaus' testimony in full here:
Connor Perrett is a fellow in the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism Statehouse News Bureau. You can reach him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @connorperrett.