Commissioners OK plan for new substance abuse recovery coordinator
Pictured (l-r) are Highland County commissioners David Daniels, Brad Roades and Terry Britton. (HCP Photos/Caitlin Forsha)
Highland County commissioners Terry Britton, David Daniels and Brad Roades voted to move forward with a new plan to tackle the opioid crisis locally, approving a proposal for a new recovery coordinator position during their Wednesday, Nov. 15 meeting.
After meeting with Highland County Prosecutor Anneka Collins, Highland County Probation Director of Programming & Clinical Services and Drug Court Coordinator Tonya Sturgill and Highland County Task Force Chief Investigator Randy Sanders, commissioners voted 3-0 to pass a resolution “agreeing to utilize OneOhio funding to employ a full-time substance abuse recovery coordinator, who will play a crucial role in supporting individuals struggling with substance abuse and addiction on their path to recovery.”
According to Britton, he and Collins, Sturgill and Highland County American Rescue Plan Act funding coordinator Nicole Oberrecht worked together to come up with this plan to use funding from the OneOhio settlement. Collins also credited Sanders, whom she said did the background research in reviewing other counties’ “programs and how they're set up, their paperwork and all that, and the ideas for what they're going to do.”
As reported by the Ohio Governor’s Office in March 2020, “OneOhio ensures a settlement for Ohio that recognizes that every corner of the state has been hit hard by the crisis. It focuses funding on programs that address prevention, treatment and long-term recovery; criminal justice; and public awareness costs that promote the overall health and well-being of Ohioans. Equally important, the plan ensures that these funds are preserved and flexible over time as a way of helping the state combat the ever-evolving drug problem.”
In December 2021, the OneOhio Recovery Foundation was formed as “a private, nonprofit foundation created at the direction of Ohio’s state and local leaders to distribute 55 percent of the funds our state will receive from the pharmaceutical industry as a consequence of its role in the national opioid epidemic. The Foundation will work with local interests to support their opioid misuse treatment, recovery and prevention efforts and invest funds to support these efforts for Ohioans into the future,” according to oneohiofoundation.com.
“The money that we're getting is because governments sued Big Pharma and got opioid settlements because of the pill mills and things like that,” Collins told commissioners. “That money that's coming into the counties, the townships, the villages, the cities — it can only be used for programs and projects that will help to alleviate the opioid problem. It can't be used for anything else.”
Data from the County Commissioners Association of Ohio shows that the county has received over $175,000 in settlement payments thus far from various drug-related lawsuits.
Collins said that the idea to create a recovery coordinator position stems from something that has been done in other counties. It’s an idea for which she said Sanders has been advocating “for years,” as the Highland County Task Force is focused on drug investigations.
“Other counties have, with their task forces, they have kind of like response teams so that if somebody overdoses, they have people that are contacted any hour of the day, night, weekend, holiday, whatever, and they go out and they provide services to that person immediately,” Collins said. “Randy Sanders, who is the chief investigator of our task force, has talked about this, actually, for years, and I kind of said, ‘eh, whatever, whatever, whatever.’ But when this money became available, he found out that other counties were using this money just for this purpose.”
Collins said the need for the position has also “hit home for us” on several occasions during HCTF operations, where investigators have found individuals in need of immediate treatment.
“When they have people that say, ‘hey, we want that, we’re done with this, we need help,’ they've been able to get ahold of Tonya,” Collins said. “This isn't like between 9 [a.m.] and 5 [p.m.]. That's not when when drug dealers work. They've gotten ahold of Tonya definitely after hours, and said, ‘Hey, we have somebody that's ready right now to go to residential treatment.’
“Tonya has made the connections to get that person into treatment right then, which is pretty amazing.”
Because the county already has experience finding some of these individuals, Collins said part of their plan is to enlist these individuals in recovery to serve as peer mentors to work with people experiencing drug addiction.
“People come back and they say to Randy, ‘Hey, I know that you bought dope off me, but you saved my life,’” Collins said. “They want to work with people that are overdosing or ready to change, and Randy has already spoken with several of them, They're ready to do that.”
Collins added that in addition to Sanders, Sturgill has been a huge help with her background and connections.
“She has so many connections to places out of the county,” Collins said. “She already has places that have beds available right now.
“I’d love to take credit, but I truly haven't done that much. I mean, Randy's gotten all the paperwork together. He's got the peer mentors. Obviously, you guys got the money in place because of the opioid settlement, and Tonya is working on the treatment centers and things like that.”
In addition to filling a need in the county, working to intervene in overdose cases immediately and overseeing the peer mentors, Collins said the new coordinator will assume responsibilities currently being handled by her office.
The prosecutor said that under House Bill 110, which was enacted in 2016 as a “Good Samaritan Law,” some individuals who overdose are given 30 days to undergo an assessment for treatment.
“When somebody suffers an overdose, law enforcement is supposed to send a report to my office, and I track everybody that suffers those overdoses,” Collins said. “They have to get an assessment within 30 days, or they can be charged with a crime. I send letters and I make phone calls and encourage these people to get assessments. When those people overdose, this will be a person that law enforcement can contact, and this person will take over that role.”
The coordinator and peer mentors will also assume some responsibilities previously handled by positions that no longer exist in the county, according to the prosecutor, such as a peer mentorship program through Highland County Job & Family Services.
“The peer mentors will come in and work with them, and work with them not only to try to get them clean, but work with them to try to get their kids back if they have Children Services involvement,” Collins said. “Children Services used to have a peer mentor program.
“The two that kicked that program off were top notch, and they truly made a difference in people's lives and helped them get their kids back because they had the experience to say, ‘Hey, this is what we need to do for you to get your life right.’ We see this program doing all of those things.”
Highland County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Brandon Stratton, who was also at the meeting, asked if this new position would be working in conjunction with “the current team right now,” Highland County’s Quick Response Team.
“We've had quick response in Highland County for about six years now,” Stratton said. “It was a program that started with the sheriff's office, and we modeled what Clermont County Sheriff's Office was doing, and it worked out really well.
“My last knowledge, Creed Culbreath with Help Me Grow [sic; Reach for Tomorrow] was still going out and handling the quick response to the overdoses in the county. He still comes out and gets all the reports, and he’s the first one we contact.”
Collins and Sturgill both indicated that team no longer exists in the way it was originally formed, as it has not gone through the HCSO in several years. Although there is still a Quick Response Team that assists in handling overdose cases, run by Reach for Tomorrow, Collins said this new position will also take things a step further.
“[The Quick Response Team] is not what it used to be at all,” Collins said. “What we have in mind is a person that will respond right then, at the overdose. Creed is awesome, and we've been working with him on this. He goes out and speaks with people afterward, but what we have in mind is that our person will respond immediately, and hopefully encourage them to get into a bed immediately. With Tonya's connections, that's definitely a possibility.”
Britton agreed, saying that the new coordinator will also continue “tracking that person” in the future after the initial overdose.
After the discussion, commissioners voted 3-0 to approve the resolution.
Collins thanked commissioners for jumping on board with the proposal.
“We appreciate that very much,” she said.
Britton thanked Sturgill for not only her work with this plan, but for her role as a member of the OneOhio board, representing Highland County, as she spoke to commissioners about another aspect of the OneOhio funding.
Sturgill said that Region 9 — which includes Highland, Adams, Brown, Fayette, Pickaway, Ross, Pike and Scioto counties — has been allocated “a larger pot of money” to be disbursed to local organizations. According to a handout from Sturgill, Region 9’s fund balance is $2,751,049.71.
However, she said that OneOhio still has not given them concrete numbers on the funding, despite having been “meeting for a year.
“I would like to say that I had more information to share today,” Sturgill said. “The short version is we know there is money coming. We know that it will be available to agencies in Highland County. We don't know when, we don't know how it's going to be split up. Every time I go to a meeting, it’s just unfortunately more unanswered questions.
“They just don't have a lot of answers for us on when we will see money, so what our region decided to do locally here is go ahead and put out a rough draft application so that people can be thinking about what they do want to apply for and what they want to do with these funds.”
Sturgill said she was asking commissioners to help get the word out to eligible organizations, which she is also doing, to let them know that the rough draft application is available, “so that we're not in a situation where they say, ‘Hey, you have funding available February 1’, and everyone goes, ‘well, no one's ready for that, because we didn't spend any time prepping for that.’
Daniels asked if, for example, Paint Valley ADAMH would likely be “a prime recipient of some of those funds.
“They are interested,” Sturgill said. “I’ll be passing this application out to them tonight, too.”
“I’m assuming other local agencies like Family Recovery Services and others would be able to apply for those funds as well,” Daniels said.
Sturgill agreed and said that any local 501(c)3 organizations or agencies receiving grant funding are likely to qualify.
“I have asked some of the local representatives what they're doing with that money that's coming straight into their counties,” Sturgill said. “A lot of them are really unsure on that, too. That was all various amounts. Some of them are transferring it to other agencies. Pickaway is working on recovery housing with theirs. I tried to get some information on that as well, but I think we're actually probably further ahead than a lot of them, from what I can tell.”
Sturgill said she will share more information with the county and local organizations as it becomes available.
“We will just continue to update on what that process looks like as it moves forward,” Sturgill said. “My understanding is we will continue to select these applications from all of these counties. They will funnel through the board, and then they will come down to us to be reviewed. We will be making our own decisions on how we want to spend our money locally.
“So far, what I'm getting from everyone else is, they would like to give some priority to prevention services, and they would like to give priority to collaboration with these other counties. Those agencies that are in more than one county will probably have a better chance just because they think the money will go further, obviously, if they're stretching it between the counties that are in our region.”
For more information on the OneOhio Foundation, visit: https://www.oneohiofoundation.com.
For more from Wednesday’s meeting, see the stories at: