CLEVELAND, Ohio — Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish wants to create a $10 million Opioid Innovation Fund to support and test new strategies to tackle the opioid epidemic, but the county council county is divided on whether this is necessary and how it could work.
The money, which would come from the county’s $117.5 million Opioid Settlement Fund, would be invested “in what appears to be promising technology and systems” to prevent or treat opioid addiction, the director said. of County Development, Paul Herdeg, to County Council Finance and Budget. committee on Tuesday.
The programs could be developed and administered by public health systems, like Metro Health, or other start-ups, he said. Only 5-10% of funds would be used for operational costs.
The county would also create a new advisory board to manage funds, review proposals and guide investments over a three-year period, with hopes the county would begin to see results within five years, Herdeg said. The council would be made up of medical experts, community representatives, and people with personal experience of drug addiction, either themselves or through a family member.
So far, the county has spent most of its money on treatment-based solutions, Herdeg explained, “but as we continue to see the terrible number of people affected…we can’t help to tell us, can anything else be finished?”
It struck a chord with several council members who say the county’s rising drug death toll is proof that the strategies they’ve tried aren’t working. The county reported 710 drug-related deaths in 2021, slightly less than the 2017 record of 727, according to preliminary numbers from the Cuyahoga County Board of Health’s “overdose data dashboard.” And medical examiner Dr Thomas Gilson has already predicted as many or more deaths this year.
District 2 Councilman Dale Miller called the numbers ‘one of our society’s most monumental failures’ and said he supports the idea of trying ‘something new and radical’ . About a third of deaths in 2021 occurred in his district, according to health department records.
“I think what we’re doing isn’t working right now,” he said.
Several other committee board members agreed, saying they would rather fund more prevention efforts to help residents avoid becoming addicted in the first place, than seek treatment.
Councilman Jack Schron said he’s already getting calls from businesses wanting to move to Cleveland, if funding is available, and gave examples of programs trying to reprogram the brain to end addiction or technology which ensures that prescriptions are disposed of appropriately and completely, to prevent misuse. Councilwoman Nan Baker said she would be willing to invest more than $10 million to find solutions.
There is no guarantee that any of the funded projects will work, they acknowledged, but they believe the risk is worth it.
“Everyone says $10 million is a lot of money and I’m not going to exaggerate that it’s not, but we’re talking about $140 million that we’re spending on treatment alone. “Schron said. “What if we could stop these processing parts before they get to that. That’s what this innovation fund is for.
Other council members are skeptical about the expenses and how the funds would be distributed.
Council Chairman Pernel Jones, Jr. called it unusual to spend $10 million on a pilot program, even though the money is split between 6 to 10 projects. He also questioned why the proposal required transferring funds to another entity, such as the Cleveland Foundation, to safeguard and release as directed by the advisory board.
“We can keep our own money,” Jones said.
District 5 Councilman Michael Gallagher called the plan a “slap in the face” for organizations currently providing traditional services and said he wanted to know what they thought of the plan. He was also skeptical of the funding technology he fears drug addicts are using to worsen their addiction, noting cases where people used fentanyl test strips meant to prevent overdoses to make sure they get the best high.
“I don’t think we can do anything to save people who are looking for fentanyl to kill themselves,” he said. “I’m not against innovation, but I’m very sensitive about the dollars we still have.”
The creation of the fund was originally included weeks ago in the county’s tax plan, whose appropriations are not required to go through the committee before approval, but the council withdrew it and sent it to the committee for talk first. It’s unclear when it might return to the agenda for an official vote.
Annie Rittgers, who helped the county develop parameters for how the fund will operate, pleaded for the council’s support. She currently runs Realworks, a nonprofit that invests in and runs pilot projects aimed at ending addiction, and she thinks additional resources could finally find solutions.
“There is an opportunity to try something new in order to do better and be a leader,” she told the board.