Brown touts federal drug-abuse package in Mahoning County



One provision in the new federal substance-abuse package supports the more than 500 babies born so far this year in Mahoning County who were exposed to opioids in the womb.

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, met Monday with local officials at the Mahoning County Mental Health and Recovery Board to review provisions in Congress’ opioid treatment omnibus, signed into law last week, including Brown’s CRIB Act, which opens up Medicaid funding for newborn-recovery centers specializing in neonatal abstinence syndrome, or NAS.

U.S. Sen. Rob Portman’s STOP Act, which seeks better identification of shipments containing opioids, was also included in the federal bill, along with a provision that temporarily removes the 16-bed limit keeping some Ohio drug treatment facilities from expanding.

“It not only provides support to our most vulnerable victims – the babies struggling with abstinence syndrome – but this comprehensive law addresses several provisions specific to Ohio,” MHRB Director Duane Piccirilli said. “Our families and agencies’ staff are in a perpetual state of grief dealing with this crisis. This legislation will provide us with the tools we need to make a difference.”

Brown said the CRIB Act would help make NAS-specialized facilities such as Brigid’s Path in Dayton the national model for infant addiction treatment. The quiet, low-light facility is designed with infant’s withdrawal symptoms in mind, and keeps babies with their mothers, rather than in a neonatal intensive-care unit.

Of the about 3,000 deliveries performed at Mercy Health in Mahoning County each year, about 40 percent or 1,200 are estimated to have been exposed to some type of illicit street drug, said Anna Klejka, vice president of women’s services at Mercy Health. Those who can stay and bond with their mothers have much better outcomes, she said.

“Medicaid is everything to this,” Brown said after the news conference. “It is so important that this state doesn’t cut back on Medicaid. ... That would be a deadly mistake in our state.”

Brown and Portman also pushed for a provision that would remove the cap on inpatient beds at Ohio drug treatment facilities for the next five years. The 16-bed limit was established as a way to curb institutionalization, officials said Monday. Brown has called that cap “outdated.”

Brown said he expects the limit to be fully abolished within the next three years.

He said it’s unclear how much of the $3.3 billion in Congressional funding will make its way to Ohio.

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