When Gov. Mike DeWine receives the first report of his still newly minted RecoveryOhio Advisory Council, the needs of southern Ohio should be well represented.
In mid-January, DeWine announced the formation of the council to advise him on issues regarding mental illness and substance use prevention, treatment and recovery support services throughout the state.
“As I travel the state, I constantly hear from struggling families who say Ohio’s system for treating those with mental health and substance use disorders needs repair,” DeWine said in a January press release. “I’m calling upon the members of this council to advise my administration on strategies to mend this fractured system. With improvements, I truly believe that Ohio can better assist those who are struggling to recover and help them lead high-quality, productive lives.”
The council is headed by RecoveryOhio Director Alisha Nelson and initially included roughly 14 members, including former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland, a native of Lucasville. More members were added to the council at a later date, notably including Portsmouth Police Chief Robert Ware.
The group has met in Columbus on several occasions since January, Ware recently told the Daily Times. He said one emphasis was on finding ways to help persons who fall through the existing safety nets and wind up in the criminal justice system, certainly a topic, he added, that is of interest to him. Ware further talked about being proactive instead of reactive.
On Wednesday, Ware said, by phone and email, various members of the council who are spread throughout Ohio, are studying and suggesting revisions to the final report. As of Wednesday, Ware said it was too early to say for certain what might be contained in the final report or how many recommendations that report might include. He was willing to identify a few areas the council deemed important.
“For instance, the need for crisis services,” Ware said, adding the group also has expressed a strong desire for the powers that be to provide comprehensive support for children’s services and foster care systems. Ware noted such organizations are “extremely overburdened here in Scioto County,” but quickly added that is the case pretty much throughout Ohio.
It is possibly worth noting what was described as an acute need for foster parents due to large numbers of children being separated from addicted parents was a lengthy topic of discussion at a recent meeting of the Scioto County Commissioners.
“Without going into detail,” Ware said, “I think you’ll find the recommendations (of the council) and the needs of Scioto County will be closely aligned.”
He further talked about the council hoping to ensure every community can provide access to addiction recovery services. He noted Scioto County may be ahead of the curve compared to the rest of the state in terms of collaborative efforts between various community and recovery related organizations and groups.
Ware said he personally tried to emphasize the state taking steps to keep persons from getting involved in the criminal justice system. “A lot of that is prevention,” Ware continued. “If we address the treatment needs and mental health and substance use disorders, then perhaps we can cut down on some of the crime that is committed and bring people in contact with the criminal justice system.”
Finally, Ware talked about how law enforcement needs to be able to connect offenders with treatment programs. “We need to have the processes and pieces in place to get those persons the help they need when they need it.”
Ware said his ultimate goal would be to keep addicts out of the criminal justice system, but he wants law enforcement to have the ability to connect persons who do end up in the system with addiction treatment, especially if those persons seem ready and willing to accept such treatment. He noted Portsmouth police are “absolutely empowered” to connect addicts with the various treatment programs available in the immediate area. Ware mentioned one obvious benefit in getting people treatment is hopefully stopping them from resorting to a life of crime in order to support a growing drug habit or some type of untreated mental health need.
In Ware’s opinion, during his recent “State of the State” speech given earlier this week, DeWine mentioned some of the topics important to the advisory council. According to a press release provided by the governor’s office, DeWine touched on some of the following issues during his address:
• Increased wrap-around services models for in-need youth. “We are going to expand wrap-around service models, such as the Ohio Sobriety, Treatment, Abuse, and Reducing Trauma program, known as OhioSTART,” DeWine said. “It provides specialized victim services to children who have been abused or neglected because of parental drug use, and it provides drug treatment for those parents.”
• Substance abuse prevention education each year in grade levels from kindergarten to 12th grade. “We are going to consistently and continually educate children in kindergarten through 12th grade on the dangers of drugs, alcohol, and tobacco use and teach them the skills—through a much-needed focus on social-emotional learning—on how to make healthy decisions throughout their lives,” DeWine said.
• Increased resources to local communities to combat the addiction epidemic, including increased treatment capacity and a new public health fund that will leverage resources to increase public health awareness and prevention strategies.
Ware didn’t say so, but there seems little doubt he would support DeWine’s goal of creating a new Narcotics Intelligence Center operated at the Ohio Department of Public Safety.
“This innovative new center will provide local law enforcement with enhanced intelligence and high-tech analytical capabilities to strengthen criminal investigations and improve public safety,” according to DeWine.
Attempts to reach Strickland for comment proved unsuccessful. DeWine spokesperson Dan Tierney stated the first opportunity for DeWine to potentially put some of the addiction and mental health council’s recommendations into action likely will be when he introduces his first state budget March 15.