President Donald Trump’s declaration that the drug crisis is a public health emergency is a step in the right direction but local leaders said more action is needed to end the scourge that has killed a record number of people in Clark County this year.
In Clark County, a record 97 people have died of drug overdoses so far this year and local law enforcement have responded to more than 1,000 drug overdoses, local leaders said. About 15 people per day die of drug overdoses in Ohio, Attorney General Mike DeWine said earlier this week.
“It’s a move in the right direction but we want to see some action,” said Melanie Silvus, the director of the Clark County chapter of the Families of Addicts organization.
While an emergency was declared by Trump on Thursday, it doesn’t mean “the faucets are turning on and there’s money running to Clark County already,” Health Commissioner Charles Patterson said.
“It’s a beginning,” he said. “We’ve planted our flag in the ground and said, ‘From this point forward, we’re going to work on this.’ But that means it’s going to take awhile for this to all flow down hill.”
As a result of the public health emergency declaration, access will be expanded to telemedicine services, including substance abuse treatment for people living in rural and remote areas.
State and federal workers will be able to be deployed more easily and U.S. Department of Labor grants for the unemployed will have greater access. It also will shift funding for HIV/AIDs programs to provide more substance abuse treatment for people already eligible for those programs.
Trump also directed other departments and agencies to exercise their own available emergency authorities to address the crisis.
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Nearly 500 people have died of drug overdoses in Clark County since 1998, according to coroner’s office records. More than half of those people — 265 — died between 2012 and 2016, the result of the opioid epidemic. Last year, the county saw a then-record 79 drug deaths.
The federal government also can control the flow of illegal narcotics in the country, Patterson said.
“As the price goes up, it will help keep folks from starting,” he said. “That may help some people decide they’re going to seek treatment because it’s not as easy to get and it’s not as inexpensive.”
The long-term key to solving the problem is education, Patterson said. In his speech, Trump said he wants to spend money to educate young people so they won’t start using drugs.
“It’s the No. 1 way to combat this for the future,” Patterson said.
The Botvin Like Skills program has recently been introduced at both Tecumseh and Southeastern local schools this year. Federal money could be used to help enhance those efforts, Patterson said.
“It’s a program that has a track record and positive outcomes in this area,” he said.
Trump also said he wants to remove a federal regulation that allows for a maximum of 16 beds at a treatment facility. Addicts often want to get treatment, Silvus said, but can’t find an opening at a treatment center and have to be put on a four- to six-week waiting list.
“It would be great to see more treatment facilities and it would be great for those who don’t accept Medicaid or CareSource or state insurance that they start accepting it so those people can get into treatment,” Silvus said.
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