Candidate visits, stresses importance of mental health services

Democratic candidate for Ohio Attorney General David Pepper stopped in Marietta Friday morning to discuss looming cuts to local and county addiction treatment services, a problem that Pepper said will only make the heroin epidemic worse in rural areas like Washington County.

Pepper, who is running in the November election against incumbent Republican Mike DeWine, spoke outside Marietta City Hall about the issue while presenting his own heroin epidemic plan.

The Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services plans to start distributing $63 million in federal grant money to local entities over 18 months instead of one year, which will mean $20 million in cuts as local agencies wait longer for funding.

Washington County services are expected to experience a 34 percent cut in federal aid as a result of the change.

“The issue we have here and that we have everywhere is a heroin crisis,” Pepper said. “Lives are being ruined, there are property crimes and families are being torn apart, and even though there is a lot of talk, there is no action.”

Pepper proposed that the first step is to urge Gov. John Kasich to stop the cut, which takes effect July 1.

“If the governor speaks up, he can stop it,” Pepper said. “There are ways to deal with this issue without cutting from the local level.”

Pepper’s plan moving forward is to directly address local and state heroin crises, which his campaign noted in Ohio led to 1,000 heroin deaths in 2013 alone.

The plan outlines the creation of a multi-agency heroin task force to track crises on local levels, increasing evidence-based practices at local agencies and pushing for increased numbers of school resource officers.

“People are waiting in lines for hours for treatment, and if you’re an addict, you’re not likely to wait that long,” Pepper said.

Also in Pepper’s heroin plan is a goal to redirect more state resources toward local health care facilities and law enforcement that can target opioid supply, as well as making the heroin overdose antidote Narcan universally available to all law enforcement and health care facilities across the state.

“We’re not seeing enough, and we need tougher and smarter approaches to law enforcement,” he said.

In Washington County, mental health levies to add millage to local spending have failed when brought to the ballot in 2011 and previous years.

“Without those levies in place, it will get even worse for this area,” Pepper said. “If you don’t have that, often times the only funding your local agencies can get is from the state, and instead we’re just cutting it out.”

The July 1 plan is meant to redistribute Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services grant money over a more consistent, longer time period to help address cash flow problems, where local behavioral health providers were having a hard time covering payroll and dispensing funding equally and on time.

“Years ago, we used to be able to provide lots of services, and in the past few years it’s really dwindled to a point where I don’t really know how we keep our heads afloat,” said David White, who has served on the Washington County Behavioral Health Board for several years. The board contracts with agencies like EVE and L&P Services to provide help locally.

“Any cut hurts our ability to get help to the people who need it,” White said.

According to Pepper’s report, the grant cuts will mean that the $213,898 that Washington County received from the grant in fiscal year 2014 will be cut to $141,024 in fiscal year 2015.

“We have people in our area that need to be able to get the medication and help they need, and with any little cuts, I do not see how we can continue to provide that,” White said.

Terry Plouck, Ohio Mental Health and Addiction Services director, said in a statement to the Associated Press that the cuts were necessary.

“We are mindful this will create some short-term challenge for the recipients of the funds, but if we don’t fix it, we’re going to have the problem indefinitely,” Plouck said.