Ohio’s Governor, Mike DeWine, is working to address the drug problem in the state, and he is asking for the help of the court system, treatment professionals, residents, and other organizations to help him accomplish his goals. Governor DeWine recently created the RecoveryOhio initiative to improve how the state addresses mental health and substance use disorders, including better treatment options, prevention campaigns, advocacy, and support services. Residents are finding out just how the new initiative can benefit their friends and loved ones who are addicted to drugs, particularly those who have been convicted of drug crimes.
Ohio’s Drug Epidemic
When Governor DeWine created the RecoveryOhio Initiative in January of this year, he stated that “Ohio is facing the worst drug epidemic in my lifetime and is losing 13 or 14 people a day from accidental drug overdoses. Every county in Ohio and every city, town, and village – urban and rural – are affected. The human toll, the increased crime, and the economic and societal damages caused by this epidemic are devastating; and the cost consequences of this epidemic reach every part of Ohio’s communities: schools, jails, businesses, health care, foster care and more. One study indicates the cost of the drug epidemic is nearly 9 billion dollars a year in Ohio.”
Drug use is terrorizing the state of Ohio, and many of those who have been convicted of drug possession are users who are addicted to the substance. The Ohio Public Defender’s office states that:
- 2,600 people in Ohio are currently in prison for drug possession
- 1 in 8 people in Ohio prisons is there on a drug possession charge
- 1,600 people are locked up for possessing drugs in amounts for personal use only
Better Access to Treatment
The answers to Ohio’s drug problem are better prevention and treatment options, as well as more coordinated care for those struggling with addiction. One of the main areas Governor DeWine hopes to focus on is the criminal justice system. According to recommendations by the RecoveryOhio Advisory Council, courts should have more options to redirect individuals charged with drug-related crimes into treatment programs instead of sending them straight to prison. Based on recidivism rates and court data, those who simply spend time behind bars for drug crimes are much more likely to go back to using as soon as they are released. Those that get help in the form of rehab and treatment, on the other hand, are better prepared to remain sober and stay clean even after their sentence is served.
In connection with the Governor’s Council, the Ohio House has passed House Bill 1, which would expand access to treatment programs for non-violent drug offenders rather than prison time. The Bill has experienced non-partisan support so far. “House Bill 1 gives these Ohioans a second chance to start over and have a real shot at reaching their fullest potential,” State Representative Stephanie Howse said during the discussion of the bill on the House floor.
Speaker Larry Householder agrees, “Our lawmakers have been working across the aisle to craft legislation that expands opportunities for all Ohioans,” said Householder. “This legislation is proof of that. I’m pleased that we will be able to help those overcoming addiction start a new life and become a productive member of society.” The bill is now headed to the Ohio Senate for further discussion and consideration.
Additional Drug Courts Mean More Opportunities for Treatment
In order to ensure better access to drug treatment, Governor DeWine plans to seek additional funding in the 2020-2021 budgets to create 30 new specialty drug courts throughout the state. “Specialty dockets give judges the flexibility necessary when they encounter someone in the court system who is may benefit more from treatment for substance use disorder rather than serving jail time,” DeWine said. “These specialty courts are a proven way to hold those with substance use disorder accountable and ensure participation in mental health and addiction treatment.”
RecoveryOhio Advisory Council
In addition to recommending the addition of drug courts, the Governor’s Council issued more than 70 recommendations in the areas of stigma, parity, workforce development, prevention, harm reduction, treatment and recovery supports, and data and outcomes measurement.
Recommendations put forth by the Governor’s RecoveryOhio Advisory Council:
- Establish statewide prevention coordination with all state departments and agencies to ensure best practices, consistent messaging, technical assistance, and delivery of prevention services across multiple domains.
- Commission a statewide campaign to address stigma against people with mental illness and substance use disorders.
- Ensure that each patient’s needs and treatment recommendations are determined by a qualified clinical professional and promote insurance coverage of medically-necessary services identified by quality clinical care providers.
- Review and create a comprehensive plan for safe, affordable, and quality housing that will meet the needs of individuals with mental health and substance use disorders and would include supported housing options, transitional housing, recovery housing, adult care facilities, and short-term stabilization options.
“Far too many Ohioans have died and too many continue to struggle with mental health and substance use disorders. The recommendations, offered by the RecoveryOhio Advisory Council provide a framework for a new system of prevention, treatment, and support that we will work to implement,” said Governor DeWine. “Ohio should be a state that is a national model for prevention, offers top-notch treatment services, and supports recovery and well-being. Investing in streamlining and improving what we as a state are doing to prevent, treat, and encourage recovery, is truly an investment in Ohio’s future.”