U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Cincinnati, talks to Butler County leaders on Friday afternoon, Jan. 4, 2019, at the Butler County Sheriff’s Office about the opioid crisis facing the county and country. Before the discussion, Portman toured the jail and spoke with women benefiting from the 21st Century CURES Act, legislation he championed in Washington, D.C. MICHAEL D. PITMAN/STAFF
Photo: Michael D. Pitman
Photo: Michael D. Pitman

Portman touts Butler County efforts in battling opioids

Portman toured the Butler County Jail and held a roundtable discussion at the Butler County Sheriff’s Office to focus on what was happening locally in overdoses, which dropped in 2018 after a spike in 2017.

“Something’s working here,” Portman told the Journal-News during his visit. “We’re saving lives, we’re making a difference so let’s keep the funding going, but also let’s provide more flexibility and let’s deal with some of these other issues.”

Butler County has received $2.9 million in grants through multiple pieces of legislation authored by Portman, including a $797,749 grant from his Comprehensive Addiction & Recovery Act and $1.4 million in grants through the 21st Century CURES Act. Portman also toured the jail to sit in on a Behavioral Health program session, which was funded by grants through the 21st Century CURES Act.

The Drug-Free Communities Act also provided another $625,000 in grants.

“As a country, we tend to have a pretty short attention span,” Portman said. “My worry is that the country will say, ‘OK, we fixed that one.’ Some of you might remember back in the ’90s when cocaine was ‘solved,’ and we took our eye off the ball. It all came back, it all comes back.”

Sen. Rob Portman talks about the partial government shutdown. MICHAEL D. PITMAN/STAFF

In 2017, more than 5,200 Ohioans — about 14 per day — died of an unintentional drug overdose. Butler County saw a record high of 232 drug overdose deaths. 

There were 156 known fatal overdoses in 2018 in Butler County, but that number could rise as the Butler County Coroner’s Office makes final rulings in some deaths. Of those 156, 128 involved fentanyl, a fentanyl analog or heroin.

“Our county has been on the front line of this whole opioid thing, and so there was no real precedence that we could follow,” said Butler County Coroner Dr. Lisa Mannix, who added the programs in place weren’t comprehensive enough to help the county address the crisis.

“The deaths have increased every year until last year. So I’m cautiously optimistic, and pleased to say that our overdose deaths down almost 30 percent compared to 2017.”

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Portman said his takeaways include:

• Legislation should address issues broader than opioids. “A lot of the problem of what we see now is shifting from opioids to meth, so we’ve got to stay ahead of that,” he said.

• Skilled nursing facilities and nursing homes don’t always treat the addiction that may be the cause of a person’s need for that facility. He said he’ll collaborate “to ensure that Medicaid dollars can be used for treatment in those facilities. That makes a lot of sense to me.”

• Housing and transportation “is now a real issue” as people cannot find stable housing during or after treatment, and treatment facilities do not have reliable transportation to get people to treatment.

Portman’s CARA law has authorized an additional $181 million annually in discretionary spending for new programs to support evidence-based prevention, treatment and recovery programs. The most recent bipartisan funding agreement actually funded these CARA programs over the authorized amount at $608 million.

The senator’s CARA 2.0 Act would increase the authorization level. Portman has also worked to secure $1 billion in new funding for state grants to fight opioid abuse in the 21st Century CURES Act, and fought for additional opioid funding by securing $3 billion in the most recent bipartisan funding agreement.

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