By Randy Ludlow , The Columbus Dispatch
By Jim Siegel , The Columbus Dispatch
SANDUSKY — Declaring drug addiction “a common enemy,” Ohio Gov. John Kasich announced in his State of the State address Tuesday night that he is requesting up to $20 million in funding to help develop promising treatments and technologies to tackle the state’s opioid crisis.
The second-term Republican used his annual taking-it-on-the-road speech to reveal that the Third Frontier Commission, which handles bond money approved by Ohio voters, will help nudge promising drug-treatment ideas into reality.
The idea is to solicit proposals from researchers and centers that need a funding boost to quickly finish their drug-addiction breakthroughs to curb abuse and addiction, moving them from “the laboratory to the front line,” the administration said.
The proposal was the biggest Kasich advanced as he talked for 70 minutes and unveiled few other new initiatives before a crowd of about 1,400 people, including a joint session of the House and Senate, in the Sandusky State Theatre.
Cheri Walter, chief executive officer of the Ohio Association of County Behavioral Authorities, called Kasich’s Third Frontier funding plan “a new way of thinking about things.”
“It sounds to me like he is looking at new ways to address pain other than using prescription drugs,” Walter said. “He also may be talking about treatment. We do need to try to do new things.”
But, Walter said, more money still is needed for prevention and ongoing treatment.
Kasich talked at length on drugs. “We love our children and care about our neighbors, so we’ve got to deliver this message to them: ‘Don’t do drugs or you will destroy your life and you will destroy the purpose for which the good Lord created you,’” the governor said.
Ohio’s torrent of deaths, principally from opioids such as heroin and fentanyl, reached 3,050 in 2015, the highest in the nation. Preliminary numbers and some experts suggest that total may have exceeded 4,000 last year.
“The governor hit it right on the head, that we’re ensuring we’re doing everything we can to ensure that communities have the tools to address all the needs they have with this opioid crisis,” said Speaker Cliff Rosenberger, R-Clarksville. “We’re in a tight budget. I’m not sure what we’re going to be able to do or not do.”
Minority Democrats and treatment providers have complained that the state is not doing enough to battle the crisis, and local communities have faced significant state funding cuts over the past six years. Kasich has countered that the state now spends nearly $1 billion a year in state and federal funds — largely for drug-addiction treatment for Medicaid patients — to counter the epidemic, though most of that is federal and local money.
Senate Minority Leader Joe Schiavoni, D-Boardman, noted that two counties have had to rent refrigerator trucks to handle the glut of bodies from overdose deaths.
“You can’t just talk about drugs. You have to take action. You have to make investments in educating kids and giving police to deal with the problem and making sure we have rehabilitation for these folks,” he said.
“To say we’ve cut $5 billion in taxes, and have $2 billion sitting in a rainy-day fund, and then in the next sentence talk about how we are trying to help folks in the shadows — we do not have the programs in place to do that.”
The governor also used his next-to-last State of the State address to call for Ohio to prepare itself to attract and handle the high-tech jobs of the future.
He announced he is appointing a task force of business, industrial and higher-education “thinkers” to “look into the future and anticipate what we might lose and what we might gain.”
Ohio’s schools, universities and workforce must be prepared to evolve and handle a coming sea change of new jobs tied to technology such as autonomous vehicles, drone technology and data analytics, Kasich said. His budget seeks investments, including a state chief information officer, to promote research into new products and jobs.
While the state’s job growth continues to trail national averages, Kasich observed that the state is becoming more attractive to businesses such as Amazon and others and the state is welcoming a wave of innovative jobs. “The world’s job creators know that we here in Ohio makes things. That’s why they’re turning to us for their future success,” he said.
The governor defended his “tight” state budget proposal, observing, “If we do not hold the line on spending, I will tell you this: We will get crushed economically.”
The Republican-controlled General Assembly appears to have largely balked at Kasich’s proposal to increase the sales tax by one-half percent to further cut income taxes. But, the governor said a failure to further reduce and eventually eliminate the income tax would make Ohio less competitive for jobs.
Kasich presented three “Governor’s Courage Awards,” with one going to Franklin County Municipal Judge Paul M. Herbert for helping human-trafficking victims, including prostitutes. Herbert has helped about 200 women through the court’s CATCH (Changing Actions to Change Habits), a two-year program that treats prostitutes as victims instead of jailing them as criminals, the governor said.
While Kasich’s speech was interrupted by applause about three dozen times, not all who listened were pleased. A knot of about 50 protesters gathered in a park about two blocks from the theater to denounce problems ranging from algae blooms threatening Lake Erie to Kasich’s education policies to equal pay for women on what was billed as “Equal Pay Day.”
“Wage equality is not a women’s issue,” said the Rev. Rob Patton, a United Church of Christ pastor who now works with animal “assistants” for children. “It’s an issue because it’s the right thing,” said Patton, of Vermilion.