Hamilton County is preparing to create a Heroin Task Force aimed at curbing the rapidly increasing number of users and overdoses.
Commission President Greg Hartmann announced the effort during his annual State of the County address Thursday.
"Nine thousand heroin addicts came through our jail in 2013," says Hartmann. "There's seven heroin overdoses per day in the City of Cincinnati. I've begun discussions in Columbus. I'm also going to invite the City and our public health experts."
His office later released the following goals for 2015:
- Working with the state Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections to institute best practices that can be implemented under Sheriff Neil’s leadership in the Hamilton County Justice Center. Over 10,000 heroin addicts came through the Justice Center in 2014, including two heroin-related inmate deaths last year. New policies can help keep drugs out of the jail, and help treat inmates while they’re within the walls of the Justice Center.
- Working with the existing treatment service providers within County levies to identify opportunities for funding changes or reprogramming to more specifically target and address treatment for heroin addiction. The County funds treatment and addiction services through the Mental Health Levy, in partnership with the Mental Health & Recovery Services Board, as well as the Family Services and Treatment Levy, and also funds healthcare services to residents through partners within the indigent care levy.
Hartmann also expects the county to decide within two weeks whether it will take over the former Mercy Mt. Airy site for a new crime lab. Given the project's cost, he says it's not likely to happen.
"The dollars aren't there," he says. "There's not public demand for us to raise a sales tax to fund it and I won't support doing that. It's a challenging issue. It's, in a way, a luxury item that we've got right now. Coroners aren't required to run crime labs."
Another big challenge, perhaps the county's biggest Hartmann says, is dealing with the Metropolitan Sewer District. The utility is in the middle of a multi-billion dollar, federally mandated overhaul. Ratepayers are picking up the tab with yearly rate increases that have seen bills skyrocket. There's also the matter of the dysfunctional relationship between the county, which owns the utility, and the city, which operates it. That operating agreement expires in 2018. Hartmann says the county needs to begin thinking now about what will happen then.