Ohio mayors seek emergency response center for opioid crisis
By JULIE CARR SMYTH
Aug. 22, 2017
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — An organization representing Ohio big-city mayors is urging Gov. John Kasich to establish a dedicated emergency operations center to coordinate the state's response to the opioid crisis and appointment of an opioid czar.
In a letter dated Monday, the Ohio Mayors Alliance commends the state's work but suggests seven potential improvements based on observations gathered from local communities.
"We are witnessing an unfolding catastrophe, unparalleled in our state's recent history, and more needs to be done by all of us to confront this deadly epidemic," members of the group wrote.
The group's top idea is to establish a joint operations center similar to what might appear during a disease outbreak.
"As we surveyed our member communities to understand what was being done on the ground, it became clear that insufficient information flow between different levels of government was impairing our collective ability to make sound policy decisions," the member mayors wrote.
A spokesman for Kasich, a Republican, said his administration will give serious consideration to the mayors' recommendations.
"We welcome all ideas that can provide those on our front lines with new tools and resources to help," spokesman Jon Keeling said.
The five members who make up the group's board signed the letter: Democrat John Cranley, of Cincinnati; Republican Lydia Mihalik, of Findlay; Democrat Tim DeGeeter, of Parma; Democrat Andrew Ginther, of Columbus; and Republican Don Patterson, of Kettering. The letter was copied to Senate President Larry Obhof, House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger and Attorney General Mike DeWine, all Republicans.
The alliance members noted President Donald Trump's recent declaration of a national emergency surrounding opioids. States have expressed hope that the Republican president's declaration could lead to additional help or money from the federal government to attack the crisis, which is killing about 11 Ohio residents a day.
Ohio Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Kristen Castle said the state's emergency operation center has operated around the clock since 2012 and is sharing law enforcement drug interdiction information with local, state and federal agencies. Castle said the Ohio Emergency Management Agency became operational in 2015 and added Department of Health information sharing last year.
The group also proposed other ideas, including streamlining the flow of information from cities to the state and coordinating the sharing of crisis resources such as the overdose antidote naloxone and clean needles.
The mayors also urged the state to review its Medicaid policies related to detoxification and treatment programs for addicts and to make better use of the state Department of Insurance in tackling the crisis.
The mayors want Kasich to review all available opportunities to secure federal government and philanthropic funding and resources, including grant writing help as has been offered in Alaska. They also want the governor to explore setting up a charity for accepting private-sector donations.
Some other states have taken steps to centralize their response to the crisis. In Alaska, the governor signed an administrative order setting up an incident command structure, similar to what is used for natural disasters, to develop plans for addressing opioid abuse. West Virginia established an Office of Drug Control Policy to coordinate statewide funding, reporting and data about drug use, overdoses, addiction treatment, needs and statewide policy.