COLUMBUS, Ohio (Reuters) - Doug Corcoran is in the trenches every day in the fight against the opioid crisis in the rural Ohio county he helps oversee.
So President Donald Trump’s failure this week to formally declare the overdose epidemic a “national emergency” - words that would have freed up more federal funds to tackle the crisis - was disappointing for him.
“I have been hopeful for the last several years that the federal government would step up and help us with this crisis, and they haven’t. They’ve really dropped the ball on this and it’s sad,” said Corcoran, a county commissioner in Ross County, home to 77,000 people an hour south of Columbus, Ohio.
The county’s child services budget nearly doubled in the past five years to almost $2.4 million from $1.3 million, because of the number of children needing care due to addicted parents. For a county with a general fund of $23 million, that is a stress on the finances.
Corcoran struggles constantly to make funds available from the county budget for the likes of drug treatment centers, the county jail and anti-drug education programs.
The disappointment about Trump’s announcement is more bitter in Ross County given that more than 60 percent of the county voted for the Republican at last year’s presidential election against Democrat Hillary Clinton.
ACROSS THE COUNTRY
Corcoran, who attended a youth education event about opioids on Friday in the city of Chillicothe, is not alone as the crisis strains local budgets across the country.
Brian Namey, a spokesman for the National Association of Counties, which represents 3,069 county and local governments, said Trump’s declaration on Thursday that the opioid crisis is a “public health emergency” rather than a national emergency lasts only 90 days and frees up no additional federal funds.
“We strongly urge the administration to release additional money to confront this emergency,” Namey said.
The opioid epidemic played a role in more than 33,000 deaths in 2015, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The death rate has kept rising, both in cities and in many rural areas across the country, estimates show.
Opioids, primarily prescription painkillers, in addition to heroin and fentanyl - a pain medicine 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine - are fueling the drug overdoses. More than 100 Americans die daily from related overdoses, according to the CDC.
Republican lawmakers called the president’s declaration an important step in combating the crisis. Some critics, including Democratic lawmakers, said it was meaningless without additional funding.
The National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO), representing nearly 3,000 local health departments, also expressed disappointment that Trump did not go further and call the crisis a national emergency.
“The declaration of an opioid public health emergency and not a state of national emergency does not go far enough,” said NACCHO’s Laura Hanen, the association’s interim executive director. “We strongly urge the Administration to act further and release additional monies to bring this emergency to an end.”
Matt Osterberg is a county commissioner in rural Pike County, Pennsylvania. He said the county jail has roughly 120 inmates, the majority of whom are incarcerated for a drug-related crime.
The county of 55,000 has an overall annual budget of $42 million. It spends $3.5 million annually treating drug addicts inside the jail, but often when inmates are released they start taking drugs again and end up back behind bars.
Additional federal funds would be vital to help finance treatment centers for inmates once they are released, something the county cannot afford.
“If people got proper intensive treatment after they get out of jail, that would be my dream,” Osterberg said.
Additional reporting by Paula Seligson in New York; Editing by Alistair Bell