Democratic AG candidate blasts state policy on addiction treatment funding

By David Skolnick


David Pepper, the Democratic nominee for attorney general, criticized a change in state policy that delays federal dollars’ going to local and county addiction-treatment programs.

The delay, which took effect Tuesday, means a 34 percent reduction for Mahoning and Columbiana counties, and a 30 percent cut for Trumbull for a year while the nation and the state face a “major heroin crisis,” Pepper said outside the 7th District Court of Appeals in downtown Youngstown.

“This is the exact wrong time to be cutting critical addiction-treatment funds,” Pepper said Tuesday.

The Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services is changing the way it pays out $63 million in federal grant money, which leaves the state with a $20 million shortfall over the next year in the program. The department is distributing the money over 18 months rather than a year because of the lag time it takes for the federal dollars to arrive.

Mahoning County received $1.78 million in the last state budget from this program and is getting $1.18 million for this state fiscal year, which began Tuesday. In Trumbull County, the funding drops from $514,651 to $338,852, and in Columbiana County, the funding declines from $404,907 to $267,823.

The Ohio Council of Behavioral Health & Family Services Providers, which represents front-line agencies, supports the state’s action, according to The Associated Press.

The state has made up the shortfall in previous years from other funding sources, Pepper said.

With the use of heroin increasing, this is not the time to stop providing money to cover that shortfall, he said.

The state had about 1,000 heroin overdoses last year, Pepper said.

Pepper criticized Attorney General Mike DeWine, a Republican and his opponent, for traveling around the state talking about the increased use of heroin at “dog and pony shows,” but is “doing nothing” to stop the problem.

DeWine could have urged lawmakers — his fellow Republicans control the General Assembly and every statewide elected executive office seat in the state — to make up the shortfall, Pepper said.

“He hasn’t said, ‘We need to make up the cuts,’” Pepper said of DeWine. “It’s a complete failure of leadership.”

During a “Drug Abuse Town Hall” in Warren in February, DeWine said there needs to be more education about the dangers of drugs, more treatment beds and longer treatment programs to help heroin addicts get clean. He added that expensive fixes aren’t always the most-important factor, and that to make a real difference, communities need citizens groups focused on education and prevention.

DeWine also has created a heroin unit to focus on the sale and distribution of the drug.

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