Franklin County and the city of Columbus are sharing the cost of hiring an administrator to oversee city and county efforts to fight the local heroin- and opioid-addiction epidemic.
Amy O’Grady, former director of criminal-justice initiatives for Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, started her new job Aug. 7. She works for Columbus City Council as a senior policy analyst, but the county will pay $50,000 of her $111,000 annual salary for three years. The city is covering the rest.
“I know a lot of folks in the community want to see results, so we hired someone who’s an expert in the field (and) who’s worked statewide on the problem so that we can drive results,” City Council President Zach Klein said. “I’m a firm believer that the time for talk is over and now it’s time for action.”
Last year, 4,100 Ohioans died from overdosing on heroin or its synthetic relatives. This year, Franklin County is on pace for a 66 percent increase over 2016 in overdose deaths.
O’Grady had worked in the Ohio Attorney General’s Office since 2005, with a break in 2013 and 2014 after she was appointed as a judge for the 10th District Court of Appeals. She most recently worked on opioid-crisis policy for DeWine.
She will steer the Franklin County-Columbus task force formed in March when officials said they wanted to do more to centralize funding and the fight against the heroin and opioid epidemic that is killing people, destroying families and costing millions of dollars.
That joint plan was developed by the Franklin County Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health board with an $80 million annual budget, $57 million of which comes from a Franklin County property tax.
The report said opioid addiction is a disease, not a choice, and needs to be treated as such.
The plan calls for getting more treatment and support for addicts, helping first responders and law-enforcement officers treat addicts more quickly and educating community members to aid prevention.
A large part of the plan is to add to the number of treatment beds, a major concern of frustrated medics who often see overdose victims leave the hospital before they do because there aren’t enough beds.
Franklin County had 104 treatment beds and 283 longer-term residential beds in July when ADAMH announced it would spend $5 million more to create an Addiction Stabilization Center for overdose cases.
Maryhaven, a nonprofit agency specializing in addiction and mental-health treatment, will run a 50-bed center in south Columbus; it is scheduled to open Sept. 1.
“It’s a balancing act,” O’Grady said. “You have to look at how you can help people in the midst of the epidemic right now, but you have to work upstream, as well.”
She said that includes keeping children from using drugs in the first place to avoid raising “another generation” of the problem.
Klein said the city and county have to create a system that addresses mental health and drug addiction across the board so they can be ready for the next drug crisis.
“Drug addiction is not new. It has plagued rural communities and communities of color for many years, and it’s been largely ignored,” he said. “That’s why it’s so important to recognize that we want to build a system for the future that can help everyone.”