What The Opioid Crisis Is Costing The Mahoning Valley
The local governments suing drug companies over the opioid crisis say addiction has cost them—not just in damage to people’s lives, but in dollars and cents.
It’s hard to come up with a price tag, though. Numerous different agencies handle prevention, treatment and response to overdoses. The federal government, state of Ohio, foundations and local communities are all paying for the epidemic.
While the crisis hasn’t broken local budgets in the Mahoning Valley, it has burdened them, agency officials say.
Stopping Opioids At The County Jail
Several jails in Ohio have had a problem recently: people have been overdosing while incarcerated.
Maj. Daniel Mason, who runs the Trumbull County jail in Warren, said inmates have smuggled drugs inside.
“Actually, they pack it into a body cavity,” Mason said. “Because when you come into the jail, you have to change out from your civilian clothes into jail clothes, and that’s the only place that something wouldn’t be discovered.”
Last year, the jail installed a piece of technology not unlike something seen in airport security lines: a body scanner. The price? About $120,000.
Inmates step on a platform, which slides them through an X-ray machine, Mason explained. An image pops up on a screen in front of a sheriff’s deputy.
“It will determine if somebody has something on them that we can’t see during a pat down or during like a change-out search,” he said.
Rising Safety Costs
Trumbull County had the highest fatal overdose rate in Northeast Ohio for the years 2011 to 2016, according to Ohio Department of Health data.
Some of that is because of a pay increase for sheriff’s deputies. But that’s not the only reason. Mason said the jail is crowded, and that means higher costs for food and medical care.
“A lot of times the inmates are reaching out to the workers that are in the jail, and explaining that the reason that they’ve committed these offenses are because of drug addiction problems,” he said.
Overdose deaths in Trumbull County doubled from 2014 to 2016, rising from 54 to 111. Spending at the coroner’s office jumped 9 percent over that time, according to data in the county’s financial reports. The coroner told county commissioners last year that more deaths meant more medical tests.
Crisis Hits Addiction And Mental Health Services
Other agencies are feeling the strain, too.
The director of the Trumbull County Mental Health and Recovery Board, April Caraway, said addiction recovery has taken up a larger share of her budget in recent years.
Take spending on treatment over the past fiscal year, for instance.
“We’ve already spent a million and a half dollars this year on addiction treatment services, and that’s the most in any year ever,” Caraway said.
The board receives local tax dollars as well as state and federal funds. Caraway said the board allocated $32,000 in state prescription money to buy naloxone, the overdose reversal drug, for local law enforcement.
But for her, one federal program looms over everything.
“My biggest worry is that they would get rid of Medicaid expansion,” she said.
Last year, Medicaid expansion covered an average of $371,000 per month in mental health treatment costs for people who get care through the Trumbull County board, according to a cost breakdown provided by Caraway. She said the board would have to come up with that money if the coverage were no longer available for those patients.
“I don’t have that money,” Caraway said. “Where’s that money going to come from?”
Looking To Local Taxpayers
Child welfare agencies across the state say they’re seeing more kids in need of foster care or living with extended family because of opioids.
Statewide, foster and residential placement costs rose 17 percent from 2013 to 2016, according to the Public Children Services Association of Ohio. Drug-related cases accounted for 42 percent of the 2016 placement costs.
Last year, Mahoning County voters approved a replacement levy that slightly increased property taxes to pay for the child services agency. Voters in several other Ohio counties, including Vinton and Lake, also passed levies last year for child service agencies.
“We’re looking at $750,000 more to work with,” Jennifer Kollar with Mahoning County Children Services said. “So that is going to help us increase our intake department, it’s going to help us be able to take more phone calls.”
Kollar said the agency is talking about bringing in addiction specialists now, too.
Next door in Trumbull County, children services director Tim Schaffner said his agency hasn’t sought a levy increase yet.
“But we’re watching our budget and expenditures very closely,” Schaffner said. “We’re very conservative, but we expect to start deficit spending by 19, by 2019. If that trend continues, we probably will.”
Schaffner said he’s an optimist, but he suspects there’s a long way to go before the opioid crisis is over.
“I would suspect that we’ll be asking our voters to approve a little more money,” he said.