PUTNAM COUNTY — “The Trump Administration is partnering with states and territories to accelerate the deployment of this historic level of resources provided by the Congress to fight the [opioid] epidemic,” said HHS Secretary Alex Azar in a statement released on April 18, 2018 regarding the use of federal CURES funds. “These funds will help support evidence-based efforts at the state level to prevent misuse of opioids in the first place, expand access to effective treatment options for people in need, and support recovery for those who have prevailed.”

As Mr. Azar went on to explain, the federal government pursued these goals through the creation of State Targeted Response (STR) grants. In September of 2018, the Dayton Daily News’ Katie Wedell reported that $71.5 million in funds would flow into Ohio for the next two years with, “$16 million [enabling] 55 community health centers, academic institutions and rural organizations in Ohio to expand access to integrated substance use disorder and mental health services.”

However, when compared to many other counties in the state, Putnam’s issue with opioid addiction is not nearly as severe. According to the Ohio Department of Health, in 2017 there were three unintentional overdose deaths from Opioids in Putnam County. There were 521 in Montgomery County, 441 in Hamilton County, and 431 in Franklin County.

Even when taking the larger population of those counties into account, adjusting for age and other factors, and tracking unintentional overdose death from 2005-2017 as the Ohio Dept. of Health has done, Putnam’s rate of unintentional overdose rates are significantly lower than other counties in the state.

This has created an unusual situation for the Mental Health, Alcohol & Drug Addiction Recovery Board of Putnam County, as explained by its executive director, Jennifer Horstman. “The CURES funds are federal funds, and they are very specific to opiates,” she said during the most recent ADAMHS Board meeting held on June 7. “The Board has to be very careful as to what the funds can be used for.

“Other boards were having the same issue. They have a lot of extra money, because they don’t have the opiate cases. So, the state was really working with us, because they don’t want to have to send the money back to the federal government…The county has $45,862.23 left, and the state doesn’t want it back.”

This issue has been imposed on the county by the state and federal governments. With the comparatively low rate of opioid abuse in the county, and the restrictions imposed on how the funds could be spent, Putnam’s ADAMHS Board has made a good-faith effort to spend taxpayer dollars appropriately.

CURES funding has been put to use in the county. While incarcerated, one inmate in the county jail received Vivitrol, a prescription drug that combats opioid use disorder which costs approximately $1500 per shot. Funds have also been used for more drug testing of defendants who appear before the Common Pleas Court, and to offset related employee costs.

As Judge Keith Schierloh explained at the same ADAMHS Board meeting, some allocation has also been used for extraordinary circumstances. “There was an individual who was in and out of prison,” he said. “She found herself pregnant. She was pending giving birth, and we were able to place her in a facility outside of Toledo pending that birth. So we could attempt to try and keep that child clean.”

Even with these types of circumstances and their costs, over $45,000 in grant funding remains.

“We want those who are affected by the epidemic in any way to call or visit the Pathways Counseling website,” reads part of a campaign overview presented by Brand It, a marketing firm based in Rockford. The company has been hired by Putnam’s ADAMHS Board to create a multi-faceted awareness campaign based on three main themes: to help the community identify with the struggle of opioid abuse, to create more awareness on the signs of such abuse, and to increase knowledge of the opioid abuse disorder services offered by Pathways.

This campaign fits under the goal of expanding access to effective treatment options. The stated intended action of the campaign is to increase calls to Pathways and visits to its website. Saving lives, however, may not be the result. At least not directly.