Ohio mayors seek emergency response center for opioid crisis


COLUMBUS — An organization representing Ohio big-city mayors urges Republican Gov. John Kasich to establish an emergency operations center to coordinate the state’s response to the opioid crisis.

In a letter dated Monday, the Ohio Mayors Alliance commends Ohio’s work so far, but suggests seven potential improvements based on observations gathered from their local communities.

“We are witnessing an unfolding catastrophe, unparalleled in our state’s recent history, and more needs to be done by all of us to confront this deadly epidemic,” the group wrote.

The group’s top idea is to establish a joint operations center similar to what might appear during a disease outbreak.

“As we surveyed our member communities to understand what was being done on the ground, it became clear that insufficient information flow between different levels of government was impairing our collective ability to make sound policy decisions,” the mayors wrote.

A Kasich spokesman said the administration will give serious consideration to the mayors’ recommendations.

“We welcome all ideas that can provide those on our front lines with new tools and resources to help,” spokesman Jon Keeling said.

The five members who make up the group’s board signed the letter: John Cranley of Cincinnati, Lydia Mihalik of Findlay, Tim DeGeeter of Parma, Andrew Ginther of Columbus and Don Patterson of Kettering. It was copied to Senate President Larry Obhof, House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger and Attorney General Mike DeWine.

“From our perspective on the front lines, it has become clear that a more coordinated and comprehensive strategy between all levels of government is urgently needed,” they wrote, noting President Donald Trump’s recent declaration of a national emergency surrounding opioids.

States have expressed hope that the Republican president’s declaration could lead to additional help or money from the federal government to attack the crisis, which is killing an average of 11 Ohioans a day.

The group’s recommendations also include streamlining the “upward flow” of information from cities to the state and coordinating the sharing of crisis resources, including supplies of the overdose antidote naloxone, clean needles and pricing benefits from state purchasing agreements.

The mayors also urge the state to review its Medicaid policies related to detoxification and treatment programs for addicts and to make better use of the Ohio Department of Insurance in tackling the crisis.

The mayors also want Kasich to review all available opportunities to secure federal government and philanthropic funding and resources, including grant writing help as has been offered in Alaska. They also want the governor to explore setting up a charity for accepting private-sector donations.

“Business leaders can be engaged to help either through in-kind or direct financial contributions,” the mayors wrote. “But they must be asked to do so and told how they can help.”

Some other states have taken steps to centralize their response to the crisis.

In Alaska, Gov. Bill Walker signed an administrative order this year setting up an incident command structure, similar to what is used for natural disasters, to develop plans for addressing opioid abuse.

West Virginia established an Office of Drug Control Policy in April to coordinate statewide funding, reporting and data about drug use, overdoses, addiction treatment, needs and statewide policy.

Kasich has established an Opiate Action Team among members of his Cabinet.

By Julie Carr Smyth

AP Statehouse Correspondent