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National Emergency Declaration Could Boost Ohio's Opioid Battle

Federal officials say the opioid epidemic is killing more than 140 Americans every day. (kphotographer/Flickr)
Federal officials say the opioid epidemic is killing more than 140 Americans every day.
(kphotographer/Flickr)
August 2, 2017

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Some of those working to fight Ohio's opioid epidemic say a national-emergency declaration could boost their efforts.

In its initial report, the President's Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis has suggested the opioid epidemic be declared a national emergency. Valeria Harper, chief executive of Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental-Health Services for Cuyahoga County, said the declaration would provide much-needed additional funding for addiction and recovery services.

"This is well beyond a law-enforcement problem, without question," she said, "and that's why the spirit of this crisis is helping us to become even more of a cohesive community, because it's not any one person's or one system's challenge."

The commission also suggested expanding drug treatment through Medicaid, improved access to Medication Assisted Treatment and the development of non-opioid painkillers. However, some are criticizing the recommendations for focusing too much on medication rather than other therapies, and not addressing the need to reduce prescriptions for painkillers.

Ohio received $26 million in federal money earlier this year as part of the 21st Century Cures Act, money Harper said has been put to good use.

"We are very much in the process of spending down every possible dime for all the right reasons to enhance our continuum of treatment services, recovery housing options, as well as peer-recovery coach specialists," she said.

Harper said solutions to fighting the epidemic are not "one size fits all."' If a national emergency is declared, she said, she hopes the government uses discretion in allocating funding so each county can use the money where it's most needed.

"To have really, really restrictive use of funds is sometimes detrimental in allowing us to expand in a way that we know works best for Cuyahoga, which may be different from Franklin, which may be different from Wood County," she said.

According to the report, the opioid epidemic is killing more than 140 Americans every day, equal to the death toll from the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks every three weeks.

The commission's recommendations are online at whitehouse.gov.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - OH