Health officials fear budget cuts will block opioid recovery efforts

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown's office said Ohio spent $1 billion to fight the drug epidemic last year -- 70 percent of which is a Medicaid investment

Neil Recovery Clinic

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – The Senate will probably vote on new health care legislation this week — a bill that’s already getting criticism from both Republicans and Democrats. One of the main issues is proposed cuts to Medicaid expansion and what that could mean for fighting the opioid epidemic in Ohio.

It’s a cut U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown doesn’t want to see. On Monday, he sat down with local mental health professionals to hear how they would be affected.

They had an open and honest discussion about fighting the Valley’s drug problem.

“There’s been so much progress with housing, with recovery housing. I can’t tell you how many programs are in the schools,” Duane Piccirilli said.

However, they said budget cuts would be devastating to the board’s efforts. The Mahoning County Mental Health and Recovery Board spelled out what it would mean for them.

They said they provide $10 million in funding to agencies like Big Brother Big Sister, Sojourner House, and other mental health agencies.

The board is able to do more because Medicaid expansion dollars are helping people get treatment.

“If that money for treatment were to roll back, our levy dollars would have to go to treatment. Wouldn’t be enough, so people wouldn’t get enough treatment and people would become homeless because we’re putting a lot of money into housing,” Piccirilli said.

That means it wouldn’t be able to help the programs it works with now. Piccirilli said the thought is “very frightening.”

The Neil Kennedy Recovery Clinic said 90 percent of its patients are getting treatment because of Medicaid.

“Currently, we have 40 people right now on our waiting list just to get in, and that’s with Medicaid expansion,” said In-patient Clinical Director Alicia Santilli. “Imagine if that went away? How many of those people would be suffering, especially in Mahoning County and Trumbull County?”

Brown took notes at Monday’s roundtable and asked questions to fully understand how the cuts would impact the Valley and the entire state.

“Today in Ohio, 200,000 people right now are getting opioid treatment, who are able to get it because they have insurance under the Affordable Care Act,” he said. “To rip that away by a Congress where — frankly, every member of Congress has insurance paid for by taxpayers — and they are willing to take it away from others is just morally reprehensible.”

Brown’s office said Ohio spent $1 billion to fight the drug epidemic last year. Seventy percent of the money is a Medicaid investment.


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