Valley deserves fair share of new anti-opiate funding

Although it may sound counterintuitive, absolute fairness does not always perfectly align with absolute equality.

This nation’s destructive opiate epidemic stands as a primary case in point. The plague, which now has risen to become the most deadly drug crisis in American history, has not spread its path of destruction evenly throughout communities and states across the nation.

The crisis looms much larger in Ohio, for example, than in Nebraska. In 2016, for example, the Buckeye State recorded 4,329 deaths from accidental drug overdoses. The Cornhusker State recorded 120 deaths, 20 fewer than the 140 recorded in Trumbull County, Ohio, which has only 10 percent of the population of Nebraska.

Clearly, all states and all counties are not created equal in the scope of lethality in the opiate epidemic. As such, federal assistance should not be granted to states and localites based solely on proportion of population.

That logical deduction comes into play when weighing distribution of the $3.1 billion in anti-opiate assistance funding the U.S. Congress authorized last Friday in the omnibus federal spending bill for 2018.

Part of the assistance is targeted toward those places where the epidemic of opiates and opioids has hit particularly hard. Ohio, ranked No. 2 in the nation in lethal overdoses at 39.2 per 100,000 people, deserves its fair and unequally large share of the funding pie.

In addition, communities within the state that have disproportionately large numbers of drug-related overdoses and deaths merit larger chunks from the same pie. Trumbull County again emerges as a concrete example of the fickle inequity of the epidemic’s destruction. Its annual rate of overdose deaths has hovered near 70, or almost twice the already sky-high Ohio state average.

Youngstown visit

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Cleveland, who has worked vigilantly on the front lines of federal efforts to help states and communities battle the scourge, visited this epicenter of the epidemic this week. He had a news conference at the Youngstown Police Department on Monday to announce the new funding and its potential benefits to our region.

“We have a lot more work to do to fight this terrible, terrible epidemic that has afflicted so many in the Mahoning Valley,” Brown said at the conference, where he was accompanied and supported by Youngstown Police Chief Robin Lees.

Part of that fight begins now in working to ensure Ohio in general and the Mahoning Valley in particular reap their deserved shares of the new pot of funding. That pot includes $500 million for the National Institutes of Health for more opioid addiction research, $330 million for law enforcement initiatives and $350 million for opioid-overdose prevention

We urge state and local leaders to pay particularly close attention to the new State Opioid Response Grants that will total about $1 billion.

They’re designed to provide priority funding for states disproportionately hit by the crisis. The SOR grants have Ohio written all over them.

U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Toledo, recognizes as much. She’s already out of the starting gate to ensure her community of similar size to the Mahoning Valley in Northwest Ohio gets its fair share.

Earlier this week, she said the SOR grant program is “where we need to put the shoulder to the wheel and work across the region to apply for every single dollar,” according to The Blade newspaper of Toledo.

She plans to form a task force to help agencies in her region aggressively apply for those grants. We hope a similar initiative will take root in the Valley.

Of course, the new federal funding pales in comparison to the scope of the epidemic. Ohio State University researchers estimate the drug crisis is costing the state up to $8.8 billion a year. That’s three times the amount of new federal funding available to the entire nation.

Still, if used in concert with other state, local and private initiatives to combat the opiate crisis, the new federal funding can prove valuable in lessening the degree of human suffering. That’s why Ohio and the Valley must ensure they get their fair share of the new funding pot.

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