A sweeping bipartisan package of drug legislation that would, among other things, infuse $180 million into “recovery housing” for people working to kick an addiction, was unveiled this week by Ohio House lawmakers.
The pain-pill and opioid abuse is extracting a big price from Ohio: $3.5 billion annually in treatment, criminal-justice and social-service costs, according to lawmakers who put the package together.
Meanwhile, more than 1,700 people died in 2011 from accidental drug overdoses.
The one-time infusion of housing money would come from the $404 million the state will save by expanding the Medicaid program under the federal Affordable Care Act. It would be distributed through county alcohol, drug and mental-health boards.
The $180 million proposal sets up a potential fight with some Republicans in the Ohio Senate who want to use the Medicaid savings to enact a 4 percent cut in the state income tax. The legislature already has enacted a phased-in, 10 percent income-tax cut over three years as part of the budget passed this year.
Rep. Robert Sprague, R-Findlay, chairman of a House committee that held hearings statewide over the summer on the drug problem, said, “It’s my belief if you want to solve a problem, it’s necessary to allocate money for that.”
House Speaker William Batchelder, R-Medina, recently said some Medicaid savings should be used to fight the burgeoning heroin problem.
“We want to break the back of the drug problem in Ohio,” Sprague said.
The state housing fund would require a 50 percent match from participating counties.
Eric Wandersleben, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, said of the proposal: “Safe, affordable housing is a critical component of an individual’s recovery. OhioMHAS is committed to looking at ways to increase housing stock, preserve existing housing, provide technical assistance and work with state partners to increase opportunities for housing for persons with mental illness and addiction issues.”
Another part of the package is likely to spark opposition in the medical community. It would require all doctors to check the Ohio Automated Rx Reporting System before prescribing opioid pain killers. Checking OARS is not mandatory now except in certain situations.
Tim Maglione, of the Ohio State Medical Association, said physicians will work with lawmakers to find middle ground on the issue, but he said there is a concern that the legislature is trying to prescribe the practice of medicine.
“We’re concerned a general mandate for all patients might be counterproductive. Every five minutes you spend doing this query on the database is five less minutes that you spend with the patient,” Maglione said. “Medicine is an art as much as it is a science. Every patient is unique."
Other parts of the 11-bill package would: require school districts to provide opiate-addiction education in their curriculum, enact better controls on pain killers through hospice programs, revise standards for medical treatment of chronic pain, and create immunity for people who seek help for themselves or another person during a medical-overdose emergency involving alcohol or drugs.
The bipartisan legislative package is unusual at a time when partisan battles are frequent in the Republican-controlled General Assembly.
“We didn’t do it as Republicans and Democrats,” said Rep. Ryan Smith, R-Bidwell. “We did it as concerned legislators.”
By Alan Johnson - The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio (MCT)
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