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Ohio Dems criticize addiction services funding gap

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — State officials should reconsider a funding change affecting agencies that provide addiction services, Ohio's Democratic candidates for governor and attorney general said Thursday.

The Associated Press recently reported that a change in the way the state is funneling federal money to county addictions boards and local providers is creating a $20 million shortfall over the next year.

The plan by the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services to distribute $63 million in federal money over 18 months instead of a single year is meant to address cash flow problems that at times have left addiction services providers scrambling to cover payroll. Federal money approved last fall, for example, wasn't available until March this year.

Gubernatorial contender Ed FitzGerald and attorney general candidate David Pepper questioned the timing of the decision at a Thursday news conference in Columbus, saying the shortfall hampers the effort to combat Ohio's painkiller and heroin epidemic.

"This was not a decision that had to be made," FitzGerald said. "They made a bureaucratic decision without realizing that there could be an interruption in services or treatment, and that's a foolish decision."

The agency's director has said that once implemented on July 1 the plan will ensure a more stable funding stream for local boards helping treat Ohioans with substance abuse problems.

Tracy Plouck, Mental Health and Addiction Services director, has also said Gov. John Kasich's upcoming budget may help cover part of the gap, and Ohio's decision to expand Medicaid eligibility for more poor Ohioans should help ease the blow. A message was left with the agency Thursday.

County addictions officials understand the state's rationale but have said the shortfall created by the change hampers their fight against Ohio's painkiller and heroin epidemic.

Local providers support the state's move, saying the cash flow problems are creating huge burdens.

The state saw a record 1,914 drug overdose deaths in 2012, according to Department of Health data. Heroin-related deaths soared 60 percent to 680 in 2012, the most recent year of available data, the Health Department found.

Ahead of the news conference, health care and mental health advocates released a letter on the issue that they said was sent weeks ago to all statewide contenders and those running for the General Assembly. In it, they urge candidates not to politicize drug abuse and addiction.

"All too often we have seen the polarizing, trivializing effect that heated campaign rhetoric can have on serious issues," wrote the groups, which include the Drug Free Action Alliance.

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