Commissioners And Health Services Board Disagree On Drug Treatment Program

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A decision by the 317 Board not to select an Athens-based drug treatment program for funding is raising objections from the Athens County Commissioners.

At their meeting Tuesday, the commissioners voted to send a letter expressing their views to Earl Cecil, executive director of the Athens, Hocking and Vinton Counties Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services (317) Board.

However, Cecil told The Messenger it is likely that funding will be provided from other sources for Health Recovery Services to maintain its current program.

The 317 Board had accepted proposals for expansion of medication assisted treatment (MAT), according to Cecil, who said $187,500 was available. Proposals were submitted by Athens-based Health Recovery Services and by Tri-County Mental Health and Counseling in conjunction with Hocking County Municipal Court. At a special meeting Monday, the 317 Board voted to select the Tri-County/court proposal.

The county commissioners assert that the funding decision will result in fewer people with opiate addictions receiving treatment, both in Athens County and overall. According to the commissioners, the Health Recovery Services proposal would have served 69 people per year, while the court-affiliated program will serve 20.

“It is the strong preference of the commissioners that the (317) Board devises a clear plan for the funding of HRS services that preserves the ability to provide necessary MAT services within Athens County,” the commissioners wrote, “before making a commitment to fund a program that substantially reduces overall capacity and eliminates 317 Board supported MAT services in Athens County.”

Commission President Lenny Eliason said because the program that was funded is court-based in Hocking County, there likely won’t be many Athens County residents served.

However, Hocking County Municipal Court Judge Frederick Moses said there are agreements with judges in both Athens County and Hocking County to make use of the program.

Joe Gay, executive director of Health Recovery Services, said the agency had submitted a proposal for $157,000 to serve 69 patients, including about 30 who are already receiving medication-assisted treatment. Gay said if funding is not provided, the 30 will go off the program July 1.

The funding is for treatment of people who do not have insurance and who do not receive Medicaid. Gay said his agency receives requests for treatment each year from between 100 and 200 people who fall into that category.

The 317 Board has in the past provided funding for Health Recovery Services’ medication assisted treatment program. Gay said the agency received $24,000 in July 2011, a special allotment of $100,000 in early 2012 and $24,000 in July 2012.

In their letter to Cecil, the commissioners point out that it is the voters of Athens County who provide the majority support for the 317 Board levy, and that Athens County provides the most revenue from the levy. The last time the levy was on the ballot was November 2011, and it was defeated in both Hocking County and Vinton County but was approved overall because of the Athens County vote.

The commissioners also cite Ohio Department of Health information that shows Athens County has experienced at least 50 percent more overdose deaths than Hocking County, both in the last year reported and over a five-year period. In 2011, Athens County had 12 unintentional drug overdose deaths, while Hocking County had seven. Between 2007 and 2011, Athens County had 49 and Hocking County had 32.

Cecil said one reason the board wanted to fund the Tri-County Mental Health/court program is that it will use a different drug (Vivitrol) than the drug traditionally used by Health Recovery Services (Suboxone), and the board wants to see how well Vivitrol works.

Moses said there have been issues with Suboxone because it can be abused and has street value, meaning it can be sold by patients.

Cecil said the proposal submitted by Health Recovery Services did not meet the goal of expanding medication assisted treatment.

Cecil characterized Monday’s vote by the 317 Board as a decision to fund the Tri-County Mental Health/court program, rather than a decision not to fund Health Recovery Services.

He said Health Recovery Services was invited to submit a proposal to maintain its current program, and Gay said one is being prepared. The proposed state budget includes additional funding for the 317 Board, but Cecil said he believes funding for the Health Recovery Services program can be found even if the final state budget doesn’t increase 317 Board funding.