Ohio lawmakers on different paths in solving opioid crisis

There can be many ways to solve some problems. One as complex as the opioid epidemic in Ohio provides plenty of opportunities to chip away at the crisis.

Lawmakers, state leaders and thousands of dedicated men and women have been doing that for years now — chipping away — and it seems the claws of opioids are as deeply hooked into our society now as they can be in any addiction.

On Tuesday, two more ideas for ammunition in this war against an enemy that doesn’t discriminate against race, creed or economic status were heard by lawmakers at the Statehouse.

One of the ideas has been worked on for more than a year in committee. The Republican-sponsored bill has received five hearings over that time and while it looks nothing like it did when it was introduced, some — including the sponsor — would say that’s for the better.

Senate Bill 119 once focused on doctors’ ability to prescribe opiates, but thanks to the Kasich administration taking care of that for them, the bill has been refocused on making sure patients who have been prescribed an opiate craving blocker can remain accessible in certain situations.

The bill allows pharmacists to apply a short-term fix to patients prescribed Vivatrol if their doctor stops providing it.

Perhaps the doctor retires, dies or simply decides he will no longer treat with the drug. The bill gives the patient time to find another doctor who will so they don’t miss a dose of the medication.

Missing a single dose could be the difference between someone relapsing into heroin use or not. The consequences of that relapse could be deadly.

With a vote out of committee on Tuesday, the bill would be on its way to the Senate floor. It will likely pass there and be sent to the opposite chamber, due to standing common practice of the Republicans that no bill comes before senators for a vote unless they have the intention of passing it out of the chamber. This is not always the case, but it is in most, according to Senate President Larry Obhof.

Just a few hours before the Senate Health, Human Services and Medicaid Committee took up SB119, another bill addressing opioid treatment and addiction was heard by lawmakers in the Senate Finance Committee.

Like SB119, Sen. Joe Schiavoni’s and Sen. Kenny Yuko’s Senate Bill 154 has been around for over a year. However, unlike SB119, nothing has been done with the Democrats’ bill since it was sent to the Finance Committee.

For more than a year, it has sat, waiting for a chance to be heard. That chance came on Tuesday.

A month after the gubernatorial primary, Schiavoni was asked to finally explain his bill to lawmakers.

It seeks to use $200 million of the over $2 billion State Rainy Day Fund, which for some Republicans is a non-starter.

The first $100 million would go to local governments to use how they see fit in order to solve their particular community’s problems. That’s as long as it is used in specified key areas related to resolving the opioid crisis.

The next $90 million would go toward creating more treatment beds to address the high demand for services that are currently overwhelmed by the epidemic ravaging Ohio’s population.

The last $10 million would go toward creating a way to track what is being done to ensure that money is being spent effectively and appropriately.

However, just having the phrase “Rainy Day Fund” attached to the bill may have doomed it from the start as some Republicans refuse to even consider the legislation as a result.

The Rainy Day Fund is like a peacock feather in the Kasich administration’s cap and by extension, the Republican Party’s.

In 2000, the fund was at about $1 billion, but from 2002 to 2004, it was plundered to balance the state budget due to tax cuts implemented by the Republicans.

By 2006, it was built back up to around $1 billion. It stayed that way until the Recession of 2008 forced the state to once again drain its coffers to compensate for the hard times everyone was experiencing. That left the fund with less than a dollar to its name.

When Governor Kasich came into office, he made it a point to rebuild that fund and has since doubled its holdings to that of the early and mid-2000s. He could leave office with it sitting at over $2 billion.

Schiavoni, Yuko and most Democrats agree that allowing the Rainy Day Fund to reach the lows of 2009 and 2010 needs to be avoided.

As a result, they have proposed getting rid of what they call the “LLC loophole” in the small business tax credit, but only so it affects the ultra-rich to off-set the cost of the program. That has not received any traction, either.

In the meantime, some of Ohio’s poorest cities and towns struggle to pay for services that could make a difference in the opioid crisis. Some departments can’t afford the life-saving drug given to overdose victims, don’t have enough staff to cover an increase in calls for service or don’t have enough money for family services to care for the influx of displaced children.

Will SB154 get another hearing or will it go back to languishing in the Senate Finance Committee over the summer and into the fall before quietly dying as the session comes to a close in December?

That would be up to the Republican lawmakers at the Statehouse. They hold all the power to decide what is done to solve this scourge and there is plenty of ground to be covered.

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